AutoMatters: NASA at the Reuben H. Fleet & Apes revisited


By Jan Wagner

Through Sept. 2, in partnership with NASA, a multimedia exhibit called “Destination Station” at San Diego’s Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (

) provides visitors with insight into life and research aboard the International Space Station — a partnership of five space agencies representing 15 countries.

Their new IMAX film is titled “Hidden Universe.” It reveals the beauty and awesome spectacle of our sun, and shows amazing telescopes that enable astronomers to look far away into the once-hidden depths of space, where stars are born and die.

Speaking at the premiere was NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Commander Chris Cassidy. Chris has 10 years’ experience as a member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Teams. Awarded the Bronze Star with combat “V” and a Presidential Unit Citation, he has made four six-month deployments: two to Afghanistan and two to the Mediterranean.

In 2006, Chris completed NASA Astronaut Candidate Training. Since then, he has served as Capsule Commander (CAPCOM) in Mission Control and worked on the ISS. He has done six spacewalks.

Chris said: “I get a lot of questions about the status of the American manned space program. We’re going to Mars. In the near to mid-term (we’ll be) getting our system and our vehicle robust. We could be going to the moon. We could be going to an asteroid. I’d like to see us go to the moon.

“How cool would it be with the Internet and TV and live broadcasting to see a human being walking on Mars? We’re all captivated by the Rovers that are there. To see people in addition to the Rovers, I think would just be fantastic.

“What do we set our watches to (aboard the Space Station)? There are control centers in Houston, Moscow, Germany and Japan, so we live off of Greenwich Mean Time. We wake up about 6 in the morning, start work about 7:30, work all day and go to bed around 10:30 at night.

“Re-entry on the shuttle? You feel a little buffeting as you are making your way through the atmosphere. Then you touch down very nicely, with landing gear on a runway.

“On the Soyuz, it’s a little bit different. Earlier I mentioned how small that vehicle is. Consequently you really feel every bump as you’re coming

through the atmosphere. The window was right by my head, so I looked out that window and there was several-thousand-degree plasma about 18 inches from my eyeballs. My eyeballs, I think, jumped out even closer than that 18 inches! Peak G-force spikes up to about four G’s. Then the parachute opens, which is another crazy wild ride. You swing around and the vehicle tries to stabilize itself, and you fall for about another 10 to 15 minutes. Then there are flashes of light that they call soft landing rocket engines, but there’s really not soft landing going on. You slam into the ground about 25 or 30 miles an hour, and then kind of roll to a stop. I remember looking down, because it’s round and it very rarely sits square. When it stopped rolling I was on the high side, hanging from my straps and looking down at Sasha. I could see through his window some grass and I thought, ‘Ah, that’s Earth, we made it!’

“We have really good exercise equipment up there. Muscle strength is not the key thing. The real goal of that exercise program is bone health. If you did nothing, your bones would get weaker and less dense until you basically would have osteoporosis. To combat that, we weight-lift every single day. When I got back, the first hour or so I was very wobbly. Twenty-four hours later, when I landed in Houston, I was able to walk right off the airplane. We can’t drive for a week or two.

“I’m really amazed that in the 1960s they did what they did without all of the computing power that we have at our fingertips now.”

Speaking of the 1960s and today’s computing power, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is in theaters. This is the

second film in the current series of remakes. It addresses a technological shortcoming of the original with realistic apes, and adds an eerily plausible story, a well-developed ape society and their own ways of communicating (with English subtitles, for us). This could be the next Hollywood blockbuster.

As always, please write to with your comments and suggestions.

Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters #341