Editor’s note: In our inaugural “6 Questions” interview, FighterSweep.com was lucky enough to sit down with former F-14 Tomcat pilot and current NASA Astronaut CDR Reid “Tonto” Wiseman, USN, for a quick chat. We hope you enjoy!
On May 29, 2014, Reid Wiseman launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station along with two of his best friends, Soyuz Commander Maxim Suraev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency.
Wiseman served as Flight Engineer aboard the International Space Station for Expedition 41 from May through November of 2014. During the 165‐day mission, Reid and his crewmates completed over 300 scientific experiments in areas such as human physiology, medicine, physical science, Earth science and astrophysics. They set a milestone for station science by completing a record 82 hours of research in a single week.
Prior to becoming an Astronaut, Reid was an F-14 Tomcat pilot stationed at NAS Oceana, Virginia and flew with VF-31 and VF-103 .
FS: We’ve got to ask: How does a launch in the Soyuz compare to a catapult shot in the F-14 Tomcat?
Reid: A cat shot is explosive. 0-150 in 2-3 seconds. The Soyuz launch is much more of a buildup over time. It is a 9.5 minute ride that takes you from the launch pad in Kazakstan at 0mph to Low Earth Orbit at roughly 17,500mph.
Each of the three rocket stages builds up to about 4g, which is equivalent to a heavily loaded fighter as it races down the catapult. At stage separation, it is just like the end of the catapult where it feels like a huge deceleration simply because the acceleration instantly drops to ~0. And then the g forces pick back up as fuel weight burns down. The length of time under g is really impressive.
I guess this sums it up – it is a three stage cat shot that lasts 200 times longer.
FS: You became a bit of an avid photographer and Internet sensation while on the ISS, capturing awesome still photos and what is believed to be the first ever Vine from outer space. While it is probably impossible to describe to earthlings what the view looks like from up there, what was one of your favorite things to see from outer space?
The first ever Vine from space showing sun never setting
Reid: I was worried that I would get up to orbit, look outside, and say to myself “Hmm, it looks just like the pictures.” It doesn’t. There is no beauty that compares to looking across the planet from 250 miles up.
The atmosphere is such a rich and thin blue, especially at sunrise and sunset. The oceans are vast. Weather systems and aurora are dynamic, as are sandstorms. Africa and northern Australia are every color of the pallet. And then at night, the people and our cities become visible with lights strung across the globe to almost every corner of every continent.
My favorite view was the US east coast at night. I-95 from New York to Miami and little rings of light for Philly, Baltimore, DC, Richmond, Savannah, etc. I probably loved that the most because that is where I grew up and lived most of my life. I-95 was always in my travel plans.
FS: You did two space walks during your 165-day mission. Can you tell our Fighter Sweep audience something they may not know about taking a stroll in outer space?
Reid: I finally found something that is more stressful than night carrier landings. Total mental and physical fatigue at the end of 6.5 hours outside. We suit up about 4 hours prior to going out the hatch so it is over 10 hours in those suits by the end of the day. It may look majestic and peaceful but it is absolutely grueling. And of course, there is no food, only a little water, and no bathroom…
FS: Space flight is probably considered by most to be the ultimate aviation experience. Where do you see NASA, commercial entities and space exploration moving to in the near future?
Reid: I like to say we are on the cusp of a golden age of spaceflight right now. Space X, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and others…they are all working on getting people off the planet. Balloon rides to over 100k feet are coming soon. Never before have we had a space race of commercial companies preparing to thrill people. It is amazing to see it happening quietly before our eyes.
While that is going on, we have had astronauts living on the International Space Station for 16 years continuously and we are pushing to move that towards commercialization. And NASA is building the SLS launch vehicle and Orion crew capsule which will send humans beyond the moon for the first time ever. Footsteps on Mars are coming soon. What more could we ask for?
FS: Our readers love “There I was” stories. As one of the few people in the world to have flown off carriers and fly to the International Space Station, do you have a great “There I was” aviation story you can share?
Reid: I guess this is where I would talk about punching out of a badly hurt fighter. But since my only nylon descent [parachute] is in a spacecraft, I’ll go there. Reentering Earth’s atmosphere was the craziest, wildest ride of my life.
I had a window about a foot from my head which made for an intimate experience. Watching parts of the spaceship floating away, seeing the heat shield melting and bits of it flowing past my window, feeling the reaction control system guide us home, all while inside a fireball was completely nuts, totally 100% nuts.
YouTube video courtesy GeoNews channel
FS: We know you’ve spent 165 days on ISS and at least that many days onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier with countless meals in between. What gets your vote for best food—ISS or the Boat?
Reid: Although I did cherish a good one-eyed jack (aka the Barney Clark) at ‘rats, the ISS food wins by a long shot.
Editor’s Note: The “one eyed jack” is a greasy hamburger with a greasy fried egg on top with a side of extra grease (did we say grease enough?). Most aviators eat them for G tolerance improvement…
FighterSweep would like to thank Astronaut Reid Wiseman for taking a moment to sit down with us. As a former Naval Aviator, we are proud to have known you way back “when” and we look forward to your next mission in space.
Top image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky
Vine courtesy of Reid Wiseman: @astro_reid