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Interview with an Astronaut: Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough

News 12 at 6 o'clock and 11 o'clock, March 9, 2010

AUGUSTA---A NASA mission specialist is in Augusta to talk about the future of America's space program. He's an Army Lt. Colonel who's reaching out to the next generation of astronauts, scientists and adventurers.

Lt. Colonel Shane Kimbrough takes question after question from students at Augusta Prep. Questions like, how do you sleep up there? He flashes a photo of a sleeping crew member strapped to the wall of the space shuttle.

"That's a pillow strapped to the back of your head," he tells students.

He shows students a pouch in a silver container. When you add water, it looks like an extra large serving of Sunny Delight.

"You kind of pick whatever you want; this is a lemon lime."

And he speaks from experience. He flew on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour in the Fall of 2008. It was a night launch with a full moon.

It was a night he will never forget.

"The launch was something I was not prepared for. You can never really prepare for it. We do have really great simulators in Houston, but for eight minutes straight, from the time you take off until eight minutes into the flight, you're accelerating from zero to seventeen thousand five hundred miles an hour," Kimbrough says. "So you can do some math and realize you're going really, really fast, and it was quite a thrill."

Kimbrough wasn't always the man in the blue suit working for NASA. First, he flew for the Army in an Apache helicopter during Operation Desert Shield. But being in space and looking down on our home planet gives you a different perspective about war and peace.

"It's just beautiful to see our planet from that perspective, and I wish every one of us could do that," he says. "Our earth would be a much better place if we could all take a ride up and take a look back, and it would change our priorities of wanting to not fight with people so much and just kind of slow down the hectic lives most of us lead these days."

He didn't spend his entire mission inside the shuttle. He's one of the few people who can tell you what it's like to walk in space.

"You go out and a lot of people have the sensation of falling to Earth because you come out of the hatch, you're looking at the Earth, and some people have the sensation of falling all the time," he says. "That's tough to struggle with. I didn't have that, thank goodness."

And thanks to a stuck bolt, he got to spend a few minutes alone, perched between the heavens and Earth.

"Looking back, it was one of the greatest things ever," he remembers. "Because Houston was like, 'Hey, give us a couple of minutes to talk about it. Just kind of hang out there for a minute.' At the time I was just hanging out looking at the Earth. Looking back, that was a special time that I'll never forget."

Mission Specialist Shane Kimbrough isn't done yet. NASA wants him to fly again, this time with the Russians in 2012. Why the Russians? Because America's shuttle program is about to end.

Hard to believe, but America's space shuttle program will disappear by the end of this year. Only four more missions left before we're forced to hitch a ride with the Russians. Here's part two of a News 12 exclusive as we go one on one with an astronaut who is getting ready to ride...with Russia.

After 4 more missions, America's space shuttle fleet will be grounded. Astronauts like Shane Kimbrough will be flying with the Russians.

"And they only go in six month increments," Kimbrough told us. "You don't have the luxury of going up for a couple of weeks and coming home. You're going to be up there for 6 months. So, it'll be a much different experience, but I'm looking forward to that opportunity.

The former Army Apache pilot will have that chance in 2012. For now, though, his mission is talking with students like the ones at Augusta Prep.

"Well, I love talking to students and its a big part of our job, really, to get NASA's mission out and inspire the next generation of folks that may be going into space or engineer a new space suit or spacecraft. So hopefully today, maybe I've inspired at least one of these people and they'll go on to do great things for our country down the road," Kimbrough says.

Shane Kimbrough was already an Army Lt. when he met a man in a blue suit like the one he wears now. It was a military convention in Atlanta that changed his future.

"And I was like 'what's your deal? What do you do'? He's like, 'I'm an Army astronaut', and I was like 'get out of here' I didn't know they had Army astronauts!"

Fast forward to fall 2008 and the space shuttle Endeavour. It was a night launch with a full moon. One of his first jobs in orbit was opening the payload doors.

"We were upside down at the time so I was seeing the curvature of the earth and the payload doors opening against that", he remembers. "It was really spectacular. So If I ever had a free moment, my head was in a window looking at our planet."

It was a mission that made news because of the tool bag that got away. A crew member was dealing with a malfunctioning grease gun at the time.

"She just happened to be working on the bag and while she's doing that the bag comes out. The tool bag that got loose and she sees it right at the last minute, tries to grab it once as you probably remember. And to her credit she doesn't go leaping off or doing something really crazy to try to save this bag."

But it's all just a memory now. One memory from decades of space shuttles acting as America's work horse in orbit. Astronauts like Shane Kimbrough seem nostalgic as the final flight approaches.

"So it's going to be really sad to close the chapter and close the book on the space shuttle era. There's gonna be a new spacecraft in 5 to 10 years, whenever we can get this ready for humans to fly on. Who knows where that will take us. Maybe the moon maybe Mars down the road," Kimbrough says.

During the gap, we'll have to rely on the Russians to get us to space. Kimbrough has already been spending about 8 hours a day learning the language. Two languages, really.

"And we have to know not just the colloquial language, we have to know the NASA language- the technical talk. Because when we go to Russia for our training- all our space classes will be in Russian. So I'll have to get a lot more up to speed than I am now," he admits.

And that's a whole new twist on the right stuff.

As for America's mission in space, Shane Kimbrough says the first job is to finish the International Space Station and then look to the moon and on to Mars as places to explore.

This Mission Specialist is convinced that as we try to explore those far away places, we'll discover lots of new technology to improve life here on earth.


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