It has been 50 years since NASA astronaut Ed White made the first spacewalk from the Gemini 4 space capsule. Back in 1965, spacesuits were designed to allow astronauts to walk on the moon, and now we're working on how to gear humans up to explore the Red Planet. HNGN spoke with veteran astronaut Mike Foreman as he took a look back at his experiences in the great beyond via satellite from the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Foreman was born March 29, 1957 in Columbus, Ohio. He boasts a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy (1979) and a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (1986). He was designated as a Naval Aviator in January 1981, before finishing his masters. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in June 1998, and his first mission was aboard space shuttle Endeavour in March 2008. He also flew aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission in November 2009. Since then he has completed five spacewalks adding up to a grand total of 32 hours and 19 minutes in length.
"You're weightless, it's a fantastic feeling outside. You have beautiful views of the Earth, of the stars, of the space station, so it's just an amazing experience being outside on a spacewalk," Foreman said in a NASA TV conference.
The suit used by today's astronauts is called the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), it is comprised of a hard upper torso, lower torso assembly, and a backpack containing a life support system. It also comes with gloves and a helmet for protection and keeping oxygen contained. These suits are fantastic for floating through space, but NASA engineers are focusing on creating new suits that will make it easier to move across a surface, such as Mars.
"The suit that we wear today..is a little stiffer, it serves the purpose of working on the space station and working on the Hubble Telescope really well, but it's not really that well suited I don't think for walking on the moon or on Mars, or an asteroid in the future," Foreman told HNGN in the conference. "Our engineers are very bright people that we have working on advanced space suits are designing more flexible suits that we'll be able to walk around on, maybe even kneel down in on a planet's surface and pick up samples. More flexible shoulder bearings to allow for movement of the human shoulder, which is a very complicated joint, and more dexterous gloves to be able to pick up things as small as a dime.
To clear up a space "fact" that has been circulating the Internet for years, HNGN asked Foreman if astronauts actually have Velcro inside of their helmets that allows them to scratch their noses.
"Well actually what we have on the inside of the helmet is what we call a valsava device, because when you're changing the pressure inside the suit you have to be able to clear your ears, not unlike when you fly on an airliner and you have to swallow hard after takeoff...We have that valsalva device to be able to press our nose up against to pinch it off so that we can clear our ears and [it] serves very well secondarily as a nose-scratching device because you know for a fact your nose doesn't itch until they put that helmet on you and then two seconds [later] of course your nose starts to itch and you're looking for a place to scratch it," he said.
When we asked what Foreman's most memorable moment was during a spacewalk, there were too many for him to choose just one, but many experiences from his first time free-flying through space stood out.
"The first time you float out in space has to be very memorable, you're not sure how you're going to feel until you do that first spacewalk and float outside of the spaceship. You're in a vehicle that is traveling 17,500 miles an hour and you go outside and now you're in this 'one-person spaceship' that is traveling 17,500 miles an hour right next to the space station or space shuttle...I'll [also] never forget the first time I looked down and we were flying over the Himalayan Mountains and that was just awesome to be able to think one of those big bumps down there on the Earth's surface is Mount Everest," he said.
While Foreman says he is winding down his own astronaut career and doesn't see himself spacewalking again, he has high hopes for the future of NASA.
"We have a lot of younger astronauts who are just raring to go, who haven't been to space yet. It's time for a few of us older folks to step aside and let the younger guys and gals take over. So probably not in my future, but I have those memories and I'll never forget those," Foreman told HNGN.
WATCH NASA'S DOCUMENTARY ON THE HISTORY OF SPACEWALKING