NEWBERRY — Not many people can say they have orbited around the planet, but Donald Thomas (Ph.D) can.
Thomas, a former NASA astronaut, came to Newberry to help celebrate the Newberry EclipseFest and talk to youths about space.
“I got invited for the Eclipse Festival here by the Newberry Opera House. I was really excited to get the invitation. I will be doing some hands on activities here with the kids, looking at the reasons why and how liquids form a perfectly round ball in space, doing a talk about the day a woodpecker attacked the space shuttle, which is a real story about my second mission. I will talk about living and working in space, how we eat, sleep and exercise up there,” he said.
According to nasa.gov, Thomas was selected by NASA in January 1990, and he became an astronaut in July 1991. He has logged over 1,040 hours in space.
“I was on four space shuttle missions, three were on Columbia, one was on Discovery, I spent 44 days in space and orbited the Earth 692 times,” Thomas said. “Three of the missions were just science missions, we did different experiments looking into the effect of zero gravity on growing plants and how small animals behave in zero gravity, how fire burns and how liquids behave. One of my missions we deployed a big communications satellite, about the size of a school bus, from the space shuttle.”
Thomas said that being in space is as incredibly thrilling as you can imagine.
“Engines shut down, you are floating in a world of zero gravity. A little push with your finger and you sail through the air like Superman or Superwoman,” he said.
So what is the greatest part about being in space? Thomas said it is looking out the window back at Earth.
“You see how thin our atmosphere is, it is paper thin from space. On a sunny day in Newberry, sky looks like it goes forever, from space it looks like this paper thin layer, makes you appreciate how fragile planet Earth is and how we have to take better care of this place.”
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-768-3122 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.