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Expedition 25 NASA astronaut Wheelock tweeted pics from International Space Station + Interview

On September 22, 2010, with the departure of the Expedition 23 crew, Colonel Douglas H. Wheelock assumed command of the International Space Station and the Expedition 25 crew.  He is also known as @Astro_Wheels on twitter, where he has been tweeting pictures to his followers since he arrived at the space station. The images bring breathtaking views from our only off planet Vista point. The captions are all his own words.

Image above: Pictured at center right is NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, Expedition 25 commander. Also pictured (from the left) are Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Shannon Walker; along with Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, all flight engineers.

Expedition 25 is ending today as outgoing Commander Doug Wheelock and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin have entered the Soyuz TMA-19 and closed the hatches.

Preflight Interview: Doug Wheelock

Q: Why did you want to be an astronaut?
A: I get asked that a lot. Did I want to be an astronaut when I was a kid - and the answer is actually no, because I thought that was something that was reserved for someone else. Some sort of extraordinary human being. I was nine years old when we landed Apollo 11 on the moon, and I thought, wow, that is really awesome. That dream was like way too big for me because I was just like an ordinary kid in a tiny little town; small school, very rural community, and that world was something that I knew nothing about. So I think I limited myself. This is another thing that I try to tell children is, don’t limit your dreams, because I, of course, I wanted to be an astronaut—I think in 1969 any nine-year-old boy at that time wanted to be an astronaut—but it was like something that was only a dream. So I never really thought about it until I got up into my teenage years. I thought, man, I’d really love to fly; I just want to fly. I don’t care what, I just want to fly something. So when I went to the military academy I came out and went into aviation and just developed a love for flying. Then as I progressed in my flying career, I started thinking about this astronaut thing, and I thought that might be something that’s kind of cool. In those years, we had just started at the space shuttle program, and, of course, all eyes were on that program, the beginning years. I thought that’d be kind of a neat adventure to be a part of. It wasn’t until I, with my engineering background and a few years of flying, that I became interested; I was flying helicopters at the time. I was so interested in what was happening up there where that rotor was turning, that I became fascinated with the mechanics of flight and I wanted to be a test pilot at the time, and being an astronaut wasn’t really on my radar screen at the time. Again, I think it was probably something that I thought was reserved for somebody much smarter than me or from a different background than I had. So then when I was able to go through test pilot training and get exposed to and meet different test pilots from various services, and I got to meet some of the astronauts that had formerly been test pilots, I thought, that’s something that I could do as well. I think I might try to do that. So it was a process for me to really, and I think it was primarily that I just really limited what I was able to dream about for myself. Of course, it always seemed like a kind of a cool thing to do, be an astronaut. That would be a really awesome job. I think I really kind of kept that barrier up where that’s not really something I could achieve. Now looking back on that process and understanding how much I limited myself, my thinking, I’ve sort of taken it upon myself that whenever I’m around children or students of any age, I make sure that I get them thinking about things that they want to do. It might not be being an astronaut—it might be being a teacher or being a doctor or something like that, whatever it is, their dream, but they may be limiting themselves as well, much like I did. So I try to encourage them to tear those barriers away because, let me tell you something, dreams really do come true even for ordinary kids, from kind of a small town. That really can happen for you as well.


Expedition 25 has ended its stay at the International Space Station. The departing trio -- Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin -- undocked in the Soyuz TMA-19 at 8:23 p.m. EST. Staying behind are Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. Though the ceremonial change-of-command ceremony occurred Wednesday, their increment officially began when the Soyuz TMA-19 undocked.

Wanted to ask you about the small town, about The Doug Wheelock Story, in pieces. Let’s start with Windsor, New York, your hometown. Tell me about that place.

Windsor is a very small town and actually it’s a very pastoral place. It’s like a Norman Rockwell kind of setting up there, in upstate New York. It’s a small town with a town square. I don’t know as Windsor’s much bigger than when I left or when I was in school, but it’s a very tight-knit community. We actually lived in a little town called West Windsor which was even outside of Windsor by maybe eight or ten miles from the center part of town where the high school is that I went to. I took a bus to school from a rural community. West Windsor’s very tiny; I don’t think it’s on many maps even, but the benefits that I, now that I look back, what that sense of community gave to me. It was a sense of value, of the importance of hard work, pride in your work, service to others. Those things have really become my bedrock of my values that carried me into my years in the military. I never really realized what that little town and that community and our community of people there, that I knew through being raised in that small town. What values it gave to me until years later, and so now I have just such a warm spot in my heart for Windsor. My mom and dad still live up there, so I get a chance to go back and visit quite often. It draws me back more and more, as I get older, realizing the things that I’ve learned in my life and how the fundamental values that were instilled in me in that town really have come to play in my adult life.


The reins of the International Space Station were passed from Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock to Expedition 26 Commander Scott Kelly in a ceremony aboard the complex Nov. 24. The other station crew members looked on. Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin will return to Earth in their Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft Nov. 25 for a parachute-assisted landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Did you get to see it from space?

I did. I did get a chance to see it. A lot of times it’s cloudy up there—sorry, folks in Windsor but, sometimes it’s cloudy, but summers and the spring are beautiful. Of course, the fall is just breathtaking up there with the changing of the colors of the leaves. I’m excited about seeing my home during that fall explosion of color. I’m hoping during those early weeks of October of this year that I’ll be able to see that from the vantage point of space. I think that’s going to be a tremendous moment as well. And through the cupola maybe even more enhanced, so I’m looking forward to seeing Windsor and that southern tier of the upstate part of New York. I’m really looking forward to seeing that from space.

You’ve touched on it, but forgive me if I make you do it again. Tell us about your educational and professional backgrounds, from Windsor on, that led you to becoming an astronaut.

When I left Windsor I went to West Point, and I’m often asked, what was that like those first couple years at West Point. My parents were fairly strict disciplinarians to us, and I remember making my bed and cleaning up after myself, and taking care of my things. So I’m often asked, was that like a cultural shock when you got to West Point. I said, it was kind of like my childhood with a few more pushups. So making that transition was easier for me I think because not only of these values I talked about earlier that my home, hometown and my community instilled in me, and my parents and my family, that I knew the value of hard work. We’re each given different gifts and to find that gift and that passion and just be the best that you can be, whatever that is. One of the reasons I went to West Point is I knew that it was, and again my apologies to my Air Force Academy and my Annapolis brethren, but I knew that West Point was the top of the list of leadership schools. I really wanted to experience what it’s like to be trained as a leader, so that’s where I went to school. I’m also asked, if you wanted to fly, why did you go to West Point, but I always remind my fellow service members that the Army has more aircraft than the Air Force, and it has more boats than the Navy. So anyway—of course ours are smaller boats and most of our aircraft are helicopters — but it gave me the opportunity to come out and really start right into aviation. I was actually commissioned in the infantry, so I spent a little bit of time learning what it’s like to be a soldier on the ground, and a soldier on the ground in a leadership. How to lead soldiers on the ground which is a little more daunting than what you learn in the classroom. Again having to draw off of things that I’d learned, just kind of bedrock foundational values I learned when I was a child. Being able to expand on those things and develop myself as a leader, and then going into aviation and flying these machines and then the progression through leadership roles. Flying helicopters and flying fixed-wing aircraft and then going to test pilot school, and then eventually coming here to NASA. Now that I look back, it’s a very logical progression for my type of profession, but something that is still unique. It’s not lost on me that I was able to experience this road because there are thousands of others out there that are just as qualified as I am to be here. To get the opportunity to experience service to my country and service to my community in this way has been a real blessing for me.


Expedition 25 Soyuz Commander Alexander Kaleri, NASA Flight Engineer Scott Kelly and Russian Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka were launched on the
Russian Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft on Oct. 8 (Oct. 7, U.S. time)
from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to begin a two-day journey
to the International Space Station. The trio will dock to the
station Oct. 10 (Oct. 9, U.S. time) to start a six-month tour
on the orbiting laboratory, joining station Commander Doug Wheelock,
and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin,
who have been in orbit since June


What was the mechanism? How did you get from being an Army officer to astronaut?

My parent unit is the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, the same unit that way back in the 1950s, Werner Von Braun, with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, was an Army agency that developed our first satellite. So in those years when Sputnik launched in October of 1957 - I wasn’t born then but I hear stories that it was that experience that sort of got our attention as a nation, as a planet. We thought, wow, there’s a different era coming on board now, and we had Werner Von Braun and his engineers working with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency developing Explorer I and launching it in the January time frame of 1958. Then the ensuing space race, so we always say that the Army is first in space. I think it’s befitting that since the Army was first in space that we have a soldier that will eventually one day be the commander of the space station. So, the journey has been unusual, not unique, but unusual, in the way of my pathway to this very spot. It’s been a journey of really treasured moments.

The flying in space part of the job that you have now is a part that we know does have its potential dangers, so, Doug, I want to ask you what is it that you feel we are getting or learning from flying people in space that makes it worth taking that risk?

Well, scientifically, not only in the way of any kind of science experiment you’re doing, you take various parameters that weigh on that experiment, you hold some constant and you vary others just to see what’s going to happen. It’s that way with any kind of experiment that you’re trying to discover something new. A new way of treating a disease, a way to cure a disease, a way to develop new materials to make things stronger and sleeker and lighter. A new way of refining to build more purified fuels or pharmaceuticals or whatever it might be. One little point in all those equations that those scientists work with, there’s a little g in there. Gravity plays a part in that because we’re sitting in our chairs because gravity’s pulling down on us. If you’re trying to grow something or look at the transportation of something, it’s really living in a two-dimensional world because it can go this way or that way; it can’t really go [gestures up] this way because it’s being pulled down with gravity. So you can only really truly optimize these things if you remove gravity from the equation, and when you do that, we see things that you can’t see here on Earth in the way of research. When you’re able to do that, of course, our objective of doing these things is to discover something new. When we look at these things, for instance, from recent research on the space station these little microballoons that [are] a way to encapsulize a pharmaceutical that could actually be transported to attack, let’s say, we’ll use an example, a cancer cell. When you can develop that transportation system in a three-dimensional world, it becomes more perfect, more uniform, it can be possibly transported in a different way. In the process of looking at that, it could also pinpoint specific areas or genes or whatever it might be that we need to target. So by removing gravity from the equation and being able to develop these things there’s breakthroughs that I feel are just waiting for us to discover. They’re out there, and we know they are. We’ve already returned some of these processes to Earth, not only in the building of new materials but the refining of different materials, the refining of pharmaceuticals, and I think we’re just going to see more and more breakthroughs as we take a look at these mechanisms and these chemicals and substances without gravity in the equation.


After launching in their Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft to the International Space Station, Expedition 25 Soyuz Commander Alexander Kaleri, NASA Flight Engineer Scott Kelly and Russian Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka arrived at the complex Oct. 10 (Oct. 9, U.S. time), docking their craft to the Poisk module on the Zvezda Service Module on the Russian segment of the orbiting laboratory. A few hours after docking to the station, Kaleri, Kelly and Skripochka were greeted by station Commander Doug Wheelock and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin.

You’re a member of the International Space Station’s Expedition 24 and 25 crews. Doug, summarize what your main responsibilities are going to be and the overall plans for your time in space here.

When we first arrive on the station we’re part of the Expedition 24 crew, and I’m actually slated to be the commander of Expedition 25, so it gives me a bit of time to get spooled up, to get ready to take command of the space station from our Russian commander for Expedition 24, which is Alexander Skvortsov. I’ll work together with Alexander as we approach the Expedition 25 time frame to do my workups to be ready to take command of the station, so that’s my primary focus, of course. Developing my leadership style to be able to run and operate the station as a commander, delineate tasks to the various crew members, and to keep the ship flying. So that’s my primary task, and I’m very much looking forward to flying aboard this marvelous machine.

Over the course of six months you’re going to be doing some assembly and some maintenance, and science, all of it.

Yes. It’s a wonderful laboratory. The last time I was there, I was on STS-120. We actually took up the Node 2 which was the hub for the international partners’ laboratories. It’s a much larger place now and a fully-functioning international laboratory. [I’m] very excited about the science part of it and, of course, now it’s much larger, and we’ve got many different subsystems that are integrated together. So the maintenance and the upkeep and keeping the machine flying has got increased challenges, of course. I see my role as, with my background as a test pilot and an engineer is to keep the laboratories operating, empower the crew, all of us, to do great science and bring it back to our scientists here on Earth to make life better here and make our flying machines even better so we can go beyond Earth orbit.

You bring up a couple of interesting points. The station has changed since you were there in 2007; what is it you’re most looking forward to seeing when you go back?

Interestingly enough, I’m very much looking forward, as we come into the rendezvous phase, when we come up on docking day. I’m really excited to see the presentation of the space station in our approach scope, our crosshairs, if you will, as we approach the station. I remember how much I was in awe when we docked with the shuttle Discovery back in 2007, and we were bringing the Node 2 up. I was just awestruck at the size of the station just hanging there against the emptiness and vastness of space. It was just absolutely breathtaking. I’m looking forward to the vehicle, pressurized module size is nearly twice the size as when I left and so, really excited to see just the enormity of how it presents itself once we begin the approach. Then the other thing, maybe sort of nostalgically that I’m looking forward to is, on STS-120 we repaired the solar array on one of our EVAs, sort of a contingency EVA where we went out and repaired the P6 solar array. We put in some “cufflinks,” five “cufflinks” on the array and spent a lot of time out there and got kind of cold out there. It was a very challenging task, and I’m actually kind of excited to look out and see those “cufflinks” doing their job out there on that solar array, too.


Inside the International Space Station, Expedition 25 commander Doug Wheelock gave a tour of the Russian segment of the orbiting complex, including the Soyuz spacecraft docked there. Wheelock showed off the station's HAM radio, using the call sign "NA1SS," to talk with people on the ground as the station flies overhead at 17,500 miles per hour. Wheelock, and Flight Engineers Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchickin all will return home to Earth this Thursday, Nov. 25.

With that thought about the past in mind, let me ask you to look into the future—where do you see human space exploration in 20 or 50 years from now, and how will the International Space Station have played a part in getting us wherever that is?

I mentioned already [that] to get back to the moon or even [go] to Mars or a near-Earth object like an asteroid or something like that, it’s going to take a fairly long journey. I know that a lot of the technology now and research is being poured into different propulsion systems that will perhaps get us there sooner, a little bit quicker, but it will be a long journey. I think primarily, the space station’s mission [is] returning science and discovery to the Earth to make life better here. I think we’re only scratching the surface right now and we’re going to see some incredible science coming in the next couple years. Also one of the things that we’re going to see is how to build a machine that’s going to last, and we’re going to be able to maintain it, and we all hope that one day we’ll see a human face on the surface of Mars. It’s kind of funny to think about, but when you get there you want to be able to stand up, like we talked earlier, and you want to be able to do things and move around and do science and discover new things. That’s part of what the space station is giving us now is how do we prepare [points to himself] these machines and also our actual spaceship machines and subsystems and life support systems to take us there, sustain us there, and bring us home safely. So that’s how I see the space station playing in on this. Now I, of course, certainly, I would love to be one of those early explorers to maybe [go] back to the moon or to Mars, but I think that may be a mission for our kids and our grandkids. But it’s very exciting when I go to schools and I talk to kids and I look at these young faces and even from, like kids, kindergarten on up through high school, and you look at the wonder in their eyes and to think that probably the first human that we’re going to see on Mars is somewhere in our school system. That’s pretty exciting; probably a young child that’s maybe three, four, five years old, and that person is sitting somewhere in our schools. That’s pretty exciting to me to think about that. When I get a chance to talk to schools and to kids, that’s exactly what I think about, that I may be looking one day 30 years from now, 20 years from now, 40 years from now, I may come back to this place and one of the kids that’s sitting in here will come up to me and say, I remember when you talked to me, years ago. But I think that we as astronauts, we look at that as part of our mission is to kind of pass that torch, keep that dream alive, the same dream that was handed to me so many years ago when I watched the first Apollo moon landings and things, and thinking like, man, that’s just awesome. And to be a part of that would be just incredible, and passing that dream to our kids. So I see us going beyond Earth orbit, and I don’t know what the machine will look like, but I know it’s going to be incredible and most of the engineering that’s in that machinery will have been derived from what we’ve learned from the space shuttle, the space station, the science that we’re doing on the space station. That’s what’s going to take us out of the grip of Earth orbit to some world beyond.









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