On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes Astronaut Stanley Love to the show on Monday, July 20 at 12:30 p.m. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
What does liftoff feel like? What’s it like to live in zero gravity? How do you step outside a spaceship going 17,000 mph? Astronaut Stanley Love can give a first-person account.
He’s ridden a rocket into space, orbited the Earth 203 times, and completed two space walks. It all started when he was a kid, building play spaceships for his stuffed animals.
Love is also an astronomer who can answer your questions about stars, planets and asteroids — especially asteroids. He co-invented a way for a spacecraft to change the course of one threatening the Earth.
What are your questions for Stanley Love?
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Stanley Love Astronaut, NASA; @NASA_Astronauts
KOJO NNAMDIThat was the sound of the space shuttle Atlantis rocketing into space. Our guest today can tell you what it feels like to be on Atlantis as it lifts off, orbits the Earth and reenters our atmosphere. Astronaut Stanley Love spent 12 days in space, and while he was there, completed two spacewalks. He's here to talk about life as an astronaut, but he's also an astronomer. So, feel free to ask him about stars, planets and asteroids, too. Adults, you are welcome to listen, but on Kojo for Kids, we take kids' calls only. So, if you're a kid, call now, 800-433-8850. Stanley Love, welcome to the program.
STANLEY LOVEThank you very much. It's a pleasure and an honor to be here.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like? What did you like to do?
LOVE(laugh) So, I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, a little college town out on the West Coast. My father was a professor at the University of Oregon. I loved space and science fiction and dinosaurs and science. I read a lot. I spent a lot of time building tree forts and roaming around in the woods near my house looking for fossils and other stuff like that. I was fairly quiet as a kid, and certainly not one of the popular kids in junior high or high school. But I kept with my studies, and the results have been pretty cool, if I must say so myself.
NNAMDI(laugh) When did you realize that you wanted to be an astronaut?
LOVESo, I thought space was cool since I was a little kid. I was in first grade when people landed on the moon for the first time. And I had a little tin lunch pail with pictures of the Apollo rockets and the astronauts on it. So, I thought it was, you know, a really neat thing, from my youngest days. One of my earliest memories is watching the teacher wheel in the black-and-white television set on the tall cart so that we could watch the Apollo 16 splashdown after that mission.
LOVEBut it didn't really seem like a job you could, like, get until I was in college. And my college had and older alumnus who had graduated and gone on to become an astronaut. And after one of his flights, he came back to my college, which was a science and engineering school in California, all full of little brainiacs. And the first thing he said was, if you're sitting in this room, you're qualified to be an astronaut. And I was sitting up there in the back row, and I went, hmm. And, (laugh) as it were, I was fortunate enough later to apply and get selected.
NNAMDIWell, did NASA accept you the first time you applied? How hard did you have to work to get into the astronaut training program?
LOVEI had to work pretty hard. So, no, they didn't accept me the first time I applied. They look for all kinds of different people with all kinds of different skills in the astronaut office, and an astronomer is one that they like to have sort of one or two of. The first year I applied I was 29 years old, fresh out of graduate school. I'd never really had a job before. And there was another guy in my interview group, also an astronomer, who was several years older than I, well-established, and also an aerobatic stunt pilot.
LOVEAnd so they picked him. But I kept trying. And, in fact, for the kids out there, my single greatest piece of career advice is take a job interview class. So, I took a job interview class after two unsuccessful interviews. And so I was really ready for the third, and I hit it out of the park, and they hired me. And that was after seven years of applying and three trips to Houston for the full-up job interview to be an astronaut. So, it took a while, but I finally made it.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, if you are a kid. Do you want to be an astronaut? If so, why? What do you think it's like to eat and sleep in a spacecraft? What questions do you have? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is seven-year-old Nora, in Virginia. Nora, you're on the air now. Go ahead.
NORAWhy is the universe still expanding?
LOVEOh, boy. So, the first person to answer that question can go straight to Stockholm and pick up their Nobel Prize. So, we don't really know what caused the universe to start expanding. If there was nothing before, we don't have any good reason why there should be something afterwards. The mechanism that made the universe expand very, very quickly in its beginning is just barely understood. It has a name, but nobody knows how it works.
LOVEAnd then once that expansion started, there wasn't enough matter, stars and planets and dust and gas in the universe for its own self gravity to pull it back together. And then, just in the last 20 years or so, we've realized that the universe isn't just expanding, but the rate at which it expands is getting faster. And nobody knows how that works. It's got a name, but nobody really gets it.
LOVEAnd, interestingly enough, Albert Einstein once proposed a theory that the universe would continue expanding under the effect of some strange force. But later, he didn't like it anymore, and called it his biggest mistake. But then decades after his death, we found out he was right, but we still don't know what's going on. So, excellent question. Please, study hard, become an astronomer and tell us the answer.
NNAMDINora, it looks like you're going to eventually have to solve that one yourself. So, thank you very much for calling. Stanley Love, what was the training like to become an astronaut?
LOVESo, coming in from the sciences, I came in at sort of a disadvantage. When you work as an astronaut, your job is what they call operations. That is, you follow a checklist, you're on a timeline. If you're late, things are bad. If you make mistakes, things are bad. And you're not just sitting in an office making a computer model of something or presenting a paper at a conference.
LOVEAlso, for an astronaut, the most important skill is teamwork. Some scientists work on teams, but many work by themselves or with just another collaborator. So, they had to work hard to turn me from a scientist into a vehicle operator, someone who could follow the checklist, do everything right, even when you're upside down, and work amazingly well with all different kinds of people to cooperate in tasks where your lives really depend on each other.
LOVESo that involved training to fly in the little NASA T38 trainer jet, which is the same airplane the Air Force uses to train their fighter pilots. We did some wilderness expeditions to get us out in the woods, or in the desert or off on the water in Alaska, and cold and hungry and tired and sore. And that's when people start getting mad at each other, and they trained us to not get mad at each other and still be nice and polite and efficient, even when we're feeling horrible.
LOVEAnd then all that worked together to make us the kinds of people who can form a team quickly, with many different kinds of people on the team. And then work together with terrible consequences for mistakes, with a strict timeline that you must stay on, and get it all done successfully.
NNAMDISpeaking of training, here is 12-year-old Ben, in Maryland. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENI'm wondering what was the hardest part of your training?
LOVEThe hardest part of my training. (laugh) So, for me, coming in as a scientist without a lot of training in how to function on a team, I had a hard time learning how to work well with a space-walking partner. The space-walking training is very, very challenging. The suite weighs 350 pounds, and you don't feel that in space, but you still have to move that much weight every time you shift position. And then to stop it from moving every time you start moving.
LOVEThe suit is hard inside. Everybody gets bruises from training in it. And some people even come out a little bit bloody. And it's a very challenging environment. And plus, of course, out on your own in a spacesuit -- which is essentially a little spaceship -- the danger is higher. The costs of an error are higher. And that was just a very, very hard environment for me. And then in addition to that, to always be kind and polite and helpful and think of the other person before yourself. It took them a long time to beat that into my head, but eventually, we got there, and I was able to do the job they asked me to when I had to.
NNAMDIBen, thank you so much for your call. You, too, can call us if you're a kid, 800-433-8850. If you got the chance to go into outer space, what would you take with you? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or if you have any questions about planets, stars or asteroids? What do you want to know? Call now, 800-433-8850. Let us go to six-year-old Jonathan in Cleveland Park in Washington. Jonathan, it's your turn.
JONATHANWhat do you feel like when you're blasting off?
LOVEOh-ho, you got to try it. And hopefully, by the time you're old enough to be able to get a ticket, it will be cheaper and available to more people. So, depending on what your ride is, the liftoff feels different. I flew on the space shuttle. So, you heard in the recording at the beginning of the show, they light the space shuttle's three main engines on the pad. And I should say, they put you in the shuttle about three hours before you launch. So, you're in there lying on your back, with your feet up in the air in what will be a chair, when you land, like an airplane. But, right now, the nose of the plane is pointed at the sky.
LOVEYou've been lying in there for three hours with plenty of time to think about whether you think this is really such a good idea. So, as they get ready to light the engines, they pressurize the hydraulic lines that allow the engines to steer, and you feel the whole vehicle flex a little bit underneath you. Then the engines start and you're wearing a suit and a helmet. You're a long ways from the engines at the other end of the spacecraft, but you still feel a rumble.
LOVEAnd there's a little tremor in the vehicle, and that goes on for six seconds. So with the shuttle, they lit the engines and then watch them for six seconds to make sure they were going to work properly. And then when they were ready, they lit the solid rocket motors. Now, most of the thrust for a launch on the shuttle came from those solid rocket motors on either side of the external tank. And a solid rocket motor, once you light it, it's going to burn until it runs out of gas. You can't turn it off like a liquid rocket engine.
LOVEAnd the solids on the shuttle burn really rough, so at that moment, it's like two football players grabbing your chair and shaking it as hard as they possibly can and your head is bouncing around inside your helmet. I don't know how the guys on the flight deck could even read the flight instruments, and the rumble becomes 10 times louder. And then your seat pushes you hard in the small of your back, and you know you are going someplace in a big hurry.
LOVEOff the pad, the shuttle did a little turn, a little spin about it, a little pirouette about its long axis to put it on the right flight path to the space station. I felt all that. And then as you climb away from the pad for the first 30 seconds or one minute, you start hearing the wind noise outside as you accelerate through the atmosphere. And you can hear the winds screaming as you go through the speed of sound and feel some buffeting.
LOVEAnd then things get a little quieter as the air -- you get higher, the air gets thinner and the sound -- air can't transit the sound of those rockets as well. And about two minutes into flight, the solids come off and then everything gets so smooth and you lose so much thrust at once you go, oh, oh, are we falling out of the sky? We're okay, right? We're okay. And then those engines keep burning, and those engines burn for about six minutes more.
LOVEGradually, you pick up acceleration. Your weight pushes you harder and harder into your chair until the last few seconds, you hit three times the force of gravity. The engines cut off and you pop up against your seatbelt and you're floating in your seat and you're in space. And your first thought is, oh, this is so cool. And your second thought is, I have to get to work right now. (laugh)
NNAMDIWow. I love that ride. Jonathan, did you like that too?
NNAMDIJonathan, would you like to lift off yourself, Jonathan?
NNAMDIYeah, he does make it sound very exciting. We all want to do it now, don't we? But thank you so much for your call, Jonathan. Let's go on to eight-year-old Elliott in Washington, D.C. Elliott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLIOTTMy question to you is, what was your favorite experience that you had in space?
NNAMDIWhat was your favorite experience in space?
LOVEMy favorite experience in space. Well, so a shuttle mission lasted about two weeks. We flew out of Florida. We spend a couple days catching up with the space station. We docked with the space station. We took a shuttle crew member over to station to live there and brought back with us a crew member from station who had been there for a couple of months and brought them home. Working every day, short periods of sleep at night.
LOVEAnd I did two spacewalks. And the first one was supposed to have been done by my crewmate, but he was ill. And so I had to go out and do his spacewalk for him. And it was not something I had trained, and that was my first time out the hatch, and it was pretty difficult and kind of frightening in places. And I didn't do as good a job as I wished I had.
LOVEBut then, toward the end of the mission, most of our work was done, and I had just completed my second spacewalk. And I was waiting at the airlock while my partner and I cleaned up a couple of things at the end of the spacewalk, getting ready to come inside. And we knew we'd done a great job on that second spacewalk. And, just at that moment, the space shuttle and space station docked together, came flying up over the central Pacific Ocean and toward the West Coast of the United States, which is where I grew up.
LOVEAnd this was in February, and Oregon in February is very cloudy and rainy, and it's unusual to see the sun. But that day it was sunny and clear all the way from Baja, California up the coast to almost Alaska. And we came rolling up over the Pacific Ocean, and spread out there in front of me, below me, just looking out through my helmet was all the lands that I knew when I was growing up. And I could see where I'd gone to college in California and where I'd gone to graduate school up in Washington State. And all the mountains were beautiful white and the forests were green, the ocean was blue.
LOVEAnd that all came up underneath me, and it was just the most amazing experience to see my whole world as a boy and a young man rolling up underneath me, along with the satisfaction of the spacewalk well done. Just an incredible experience. And, again, I hope that, in the future, everybody gets a chance to have an experience like that.
NNAMDIAnd thank you so much for your call. You were assigned to the 29th mission of the space shuttle Atlantis. Can you describe that mission and your part in it?
LOVESure. So, our mission, as a crew, was to take to the space station a laboratory module built by the European Space Agency. Now, it's the International Space Station, and it has parts from the United States, from Russia, from Japan, from Canada and from Europe. And this was Europe's big hardware contribution to the space station. It cost about a billion dollars. It's about the size of a large delivery van. And we were to bring it up to space station, attach it to the space station, and then outfit it with science experiments on the inside and the outside.
LOVEMy jobs on the mission were as easy as one, two, three, four. So, I was R1. That meant I was the main person in charge of operating the space shuttle's robotic arm. And that was very important to us, because after the Columbia accident, we had to do an inspection of our heat shield using a 50-foot pole on the end of that arm, sweeping it up and down our heat shield, looking for any damage to the heat shield. And we did that twice during the mission. It took about a half a day each time. So, I was in charge of both of those operations.
LOVEThen I was M2 for MSS, or mobile servicing system, which is another name for the station's robotic arm. So, I was the second in command of the space station's robotic arm for our flight. My boss was Leland Melvin. He's from your neck of the woods, lives in Virginia right now, and a former NFL football player and former NASA engineer. So, he was my boss for those operations.
LOVEAnd those involved flying spacewalkers around during spacewalks using, like, a cherry picker to move a person around so they could work. And that also was too involved putting the Columbus on the space station. But as it happened, I was not on the robot arm for that operation because I was outside unexpectedly.
LOVESo, then I was EV3. We had three spacewalkers on my crew, and I was the third of them. I was planned to do one spacewalk, but ended up doing two. And then I was MS4, mission specialist number four, which meant that during launch and landing, I rode down on the middeck without the windows. And it was my job on landing day to get everybody into their suits and strapped into their seats and hooked up to their oxygen and communication lines and their helmets and gloves on, and everything like that. And then there was nobody to help me, and I had a little trouble with a glove. So one, two, three, four were my jobs on space mission STS-122.
NNAMDIThank you for that. Here is four-year-old Milo in Virginia. Milo, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
MILOWhat's your favorite thing in space?
LOVEWhat was your favorite thing in space, Stanley Love?
LOVEMy favorite thing in space. I liked the food a lot. The foot is pretty good. We have a lot of different space foods, and you get to try them on Earth before you -- and then build a menu out of your favorites. One day, late in the flight, we had a chance to turn off all the cockpit lights and look outside. And, as an astronomer, I barely had a chance to look at the stars. And it was wonderful to look at the stars without all the glare from the cockpit lights.
LOVEWe also flew through the Southern Lights, the Aurora, those green curtains of light, always changing. And then, of course, my crewmates were the most wonderful crew a person could ever have. They were all competent and nice, and it was a wonderful experience to share my mission with them.
NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Milo. I think Milo might have been our youngest caller ever. Well, Stanley Love, not to be crude, but out of genuine curiosity, I know that many of our listeners are wondering, how can astronauts go to the bathroom in space? We're talking, after all, about a zero-gravity environment. Yuk, yuk, yuk.
LOVEIt had to come up sooner or later. (laugh) All right. Okay. So, when you go to the bathroom on Earth, gravity separates you from your waste product. And the waste produce goes into the toilet, and crucially, it stays there. In zero G, you don't have that advantage. So, there have been a number of zero G toilets, each somewhat better than the last, but there's lots of room for improvement. The toilet uses a little suction...
NNAMDIOh, I think we lost you for a second. There you go. You're back. Stanley Love, can you hear me? Well, we're trying to get Stanley Love back again. In the meantime...
LOVEAm I back?
NNAMDIYou are back.
LOVEOh, good. Sorry about that. I had a little internet dropout here in the house.
LOVESo, where did you lose me?
NNAMDIYou were talking about the process of going to the bathroom and the weightlessness of waste matter in space.
LOVE(laugh) Okay. So, for number one, going pee, you pee into a little funnel, and there are different shaped funnels for men and women. And there's a little suction fan in the toilet that pulls the liquid down a tube, and then into a storage tank. For number two, there is a small potty, and it's got a very small hole, maybe four inches across. Not like the great big one you have in the toilet at home. And so alignment is crucial. Got to make sure you get your rear end lined up properly with that hole. And then the suction fan kind of pulls things into the toilet. After which you kind of close a bag around it and then tamp it down with a stick.
LOVENow, that's the new toilet. The older one in the space shuttle had a rotating fan. And so that once things went into the potty, they would kind of swirl around in there. And occasionally things would come back out. So, we had a little valve that we could close to prevent things from coming out. But that was always everyone's biggest fear, is that something that you put into the toilet would come back out and be flying around the cabin like some sort of horrible insect that nobody wanted to touch. But with good care and good operations, you can minimize the chance of that.
NNAMDIThank you so much for sharing. (laugh) Here is 14-year-old Nadia, in Maryland. Nadia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NADIAHas anyone figured out how to grow food in space?
LOVEYes, they have. So, on space station right now, there are plant growth experiments. Now, they're very small plants. They've started with things like flowers, but they've also grown lettuce, little, tiny lettuce plants. And more is probably to come with that. Now, when you're in space, all your food is packed like MREs, like military rations, or freeze dried like backpacking food, where you squirt a little warm water in it and give it a couple minutes to set, and then cut open the package and eat it.
LOVEAnd after a few weeks of that, you become very excited about fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, some of the cargo ships, they'll load, at the last minute, a few apples or an orange or something like that for crew, or fresh baked bread. They love when fresh bread comes up. You open up the capsule, and you can smell it. But it would be wonderful for the crews to be able to grow a little bit of their own freshies, as they call them in Antarctica, fresh food for themselves.
LOVEBut I think it'll be a long time before we can have a farm in space that can grow, like, most of the food for a crew. Farms take a lot of land and a lot of power. If you're trying to replace the sunlight with grow lights, it takes a ton of electricity and a lot of water. And it becomes hard without the natural processes to grow a lot of food. So, it's a long time in the future before astronauts will be able to grow most of their food, but we're already growing a few little green treats to add to the freeze dried and thermal stabilized rations that we get in space.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're almost out of time, but 11-year-old Alana wants to know: What did you bring to space? And if Alana could bring something, it would be lots of candy. What item did you choose to bring? We only have about a minute left.
LOVEOkay. Well, I brought lots of candy (laugh) to share. I also brought some gold, which I later had made into an anniversary ring for my wife. And then I brought compact discs from some of my favorite musicians. They Might be Giants and Lori Anderson, at the time. And I brought a movie from my very favorite anime director, Hayao Miyazaki, from Japan. Flew that disc for him, and then sent it to him in Japan when I got home.
NNAMDIThank you very much. I think Alana agrees with you, because candy is what she would've brought, too. Stanley Love is a NASA astronaut and astronomer. Stanley, thank you so much for joining us.
LOVEYou're welcome. It's been a pleasure.
NNAMDIToday's conversation with Chef Kwame Onwuachi was produced by Kala Hewitt. Our discussion with Astronaut Stanley Love was produced by Lauren Markoe, with line production assistance from Richard Cunningham. Coming up tomorrow, we sit down with D.C. Police Union Chairman Gregory Pemberton to talk about how his members are responding to calls for police reform.
NNAMDIPlus, disabled activist and media maker Alice Wong joins us to discuss "Disability Visibility," a collection of essays from activists, authors, lawyers, politicians, artists and everyday people confronting the joys and challenges of the modern disability experience. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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