What's the view like from space?
The first time you look out the window once you're in space, I think the reaction of every astronaut is about the same: first there’s this huge gasp. It goes “Aw, wow!”. You just can't believe what you're looking at.
Even though I had seen many pictures of the Earth taken from space – and I had seen the huge IMAX movies with images of Earth – when I saw it with my own eyes, I just gasped.
I was amazed at the blackness of space. It's a darker, richer colour than I'd ever seen before.
And there, right up against the blackness of space, you have the beautiful blue Earth and the thin layer of atmosphere that's protecting us. It looks quite infinite when you're down on the surface, but from above, looking back at the Earth, our atmosphere appears a paper-thin layer. You sense how fragile this planet really is.
What are the best views of Earth from space?
I always loved passing over Egypt. To see the Nile River – this bright green pathway cutting through the centre of Egypt – was just spectacular. You see the blue water of the Mediterranean and the brown desert areas. This contrast between brown, green and bright blue was just breathtaking and, because I had visited there on Earth, it was extra special for me to see from space.
Another favourite view that we all had – I think almost all the astronauts on board the shuttle agreed – is passing over the Kennedy Space Center. Every time we would pass over there we’d have our noses to the window, pressed up against the glass, and we'd be looking down saying: “Oh there's our launch pad. There's our landing strip.”
I remember on my first mission, we had launched, and it was a little more than an hour after we'd been in space. I happened to look out the window and I saw Tampa Bay coming up. Just a few seconds later we passed right over the Kennedy Space Center.
As I looked back up at the launch pad, I saw 39A there right, where we had lifted off from an hour and a half earlier. I thought: “I have just been around planet Earth one time and my family is probably stuck in traffic waiting to get back to their hotel after watching the launch."
That really put it all in perspective for me – where I was and what I was doing.
What’s the in-flight food and entertainment like on a spacecraft?
The food is not good, but it's not horrible. It's OK. I tell people I would never go to a restaurant that serves space food. It's all freeze-dried, so it'll stay preserved in that state for a number of years; we don't have refrigerators and freezers up in space.
I think the most popular entertainment for astronauts is looking out the window – and I do this on a commercial airplane flight too. I love sitting near the window and just watching the Earth go by.
The big difference for us in space, instead of on an airplane, is that when you see a city go by the window, it'll take a few minutes. Up in space we’ll see countries and continents go by in that same time.We'll look out at the planet and see features like the top of Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest.
I got to see so many incredible sights – it was always an amazing opportunity to see our planet, to see places and things that I had only read about in books earlier.
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Do you think space is the future of travel?
Space tourism is definitely coming and we're very, very close to it. I think it's going to be an exciting adventure for everybody who participates. Once we send those first people up there's going to be such a buzz about going into space. I think there's going to be a long line of people who want to get in on that.
The more people that can get up to space to look back at planet Earth, I think the better off we're all going to be. As soon as I had reached orbit and I’m looking out the window, one of the first thoughts I had was: “Boy, I wish my mother could see this, my wife could see it, my brothers and sisters, my friends."
I wanted everybody to see the perspective that I just had. And I say that, if anybody looked out the window just for 10–15 seconds, that would be all it would take to change you forever and how you view planet Earth.
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