Listener Questions for the Atlantis Shuttle Commander
(Soundbite of TV show, Star Trek)
Mr. WILLIAM SHATNER (Actor): (As Captain James T. Kirk) Space. The final frontier.
(Soundbite of music)
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Atlantis, this is NPR. How do you hear me?
Mr. BRENT JETT (Commander, Space Shuttle Atlantis): We read you loud and clear.
CHADWICK: The crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis is at work building the International Space Station, but shuttle commander Brent Jett is taking some time to talk with us. Commander Jett welcome to the program.
Mr. JETT: Thanks for having me.
CHADWICK: We asked our listeners to send in some questions and they have. I have one question first myself, which is how high up are you? What is the altitude there?
Mr. JETT: We're at approximately 185 nautical miles currently, although that's about as low as the station will get, usually. They'll vary anywhere from a 185 miles up to 225, 230 nautical miles above the earth.
CHADWICK: Okay. That'll help with some questions that we have, because this first one here is from Tim Kemmerer(ph) of Lexington, Kentucky. He wants to know what man-made objects you can see from the space station. If you look down at earth, can you actually see anything that humans can - have built? Cities, or maybe the Great Wall of China - we've heard about that.
Mr. JETT: Let me ask Thomas Reiter, who's been on the space station much longer than I have.
Mr. THOMAS REITER (German Astronaut): Yes, hello. This is Thomas Reiter. That is, of course, something that made me very curious before I actually flew to space. First thing I was thinking is that you can see, for example, the pyramids in Egypt with your bare eyes. So that is, unfortunately, not the case. However, we took very nice pictures of them, and if you enlarge them with our 400 or 800-millimeter lenses, they come out very well.
We tried to take shots of the Chinese Wall. Unfortunately, we didn't succeed yet because it's very difficult to see, and seems to be a kind of fairy tale that the Chinese Wall is visible with the bare eyes. However, you can see, for example, streets and fields and towns with your bare eyes, and especially in the nights - almost easier to orient yourself in the night if there is a clear sky then during the day.
CHADWICK: Okay, here's another one. Corey Calhoun(ph) of Kansas City, Missouri wants to know what does the space station smell like? You don't get fresh air in there. He wonders if it smells like a big locker room.
Mr. REITER: Yes, I might take this answer. You know, it's - when you come to the station, it's like if you are coming into a room where there are a lot of electrical appliances here. It's typical of, shall I say, technical smell. However, if you are in the station for a couple of minutes, you don't recognize that anymore. It disappears. And by the way the air is permanently filtered, so the quality of the air I think is pretty good.
CHADWICK: Here's another one. What time is it? You're on a space station circling the Earth. How do you know what time it is?
Mr. JETT: We schedule ourselves according to Greenwich Mean Time, which is also called Universal Time. Depending on where you are in the United States - if you are on the East Coast of the United States right now, you would add four hours to your local time. And that's the time that we are on.
CHADWICK: Okay, that's good. You've put out these power arrays today. You're on an important mission for scientific research and purposes. These questions that I've asked you must seem silly. I've heard you laughing during - during some of your answers. But you know, this is what people wonder about, and I wonder what you make of that?
Mr. JETT: No, well you hear us laughing because we're having a good time. I mean, it works - we're certainly not laughing at the questions. They're actually very good, and I think they generate a lot of conversation even amongst the three of us, so we're having a good time. So keep them coming.
CHADWICK: Brent Jett, Commander of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the International Space Station, thanks to you and the other astronauts we spoke with, and good luck up there.
Mr. JETT: Okay, thanks very much.
(Soundbite of song, Space Oddity)
Mr. DAVID BOWIE (Musician): (Singing) Planet earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do...
CHADWICK: It is indeed the International Space Station. That was a German astronaut, Thomas Reiter we heard from. Thanks to all of you who sent in questions for the astronauts.
(Soundbite of song, Space Oddity)
CHADWICK: And stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.