Students from the Anacapa School packed the Faulkner Gallery at Santa Barbara’s Public Library last Monday night to listen to NASA astronaut Richard Linnehan describe his experiences on the Space Shuttle Endeavour through captivating explanations and stunning photographs.
As part of the Anacapa’s yearly curriculum, students participate in a three-day Synthesis Unit, studying subjects from the brain to global climate change. This year’s unit, “Space: Where Are We Going?” presents students not only with a history and understanding of what space is but also of the growing potential of space exploration in the future. As a way of spreading awareness about this program, Anacapa School invited the Santa Barbara community to join it in learning about the inner workings of NASA and the future of space exploration firsthand.
Linnehan, a Massachusetts-born veterinary specialist, joined NASA in 1992 and since then has participated in numerous space expeditions, including his most recent voyage in 2008 upon the Space Shuttle Endeavour. During his presentation, he discussed not only his professional responsibilities, such as maintaining the Hubble Telescope, but also described what it was like to float in space and experience daily life without gravity. “When you sleep in space you could just float around and bounce around on things,” he described as a photograph of astronauts asleep in Velcro-fastened sleeping bags was projected at the front of the room. “You don’t sleep the same in space,” he said. “You don’t go into deep sleep, and you don’t really go into REM.” Linnehan also described his training experiences, such as spending a minimum of ten hours training in swimming pools to simulate working in zero gravity conditions in a 350-pound space suit in order to choreograph future maintenance procedures.
As Linnehan described his experiences, the enthusiastic interest of the audience was evident, especially during the question and answer period at the end of the presentation when hands from people of all ages shot up with curiosity. One student excitedly asked what it feels like to be on a rocket launch, to which Linnehan responded that it feels like “a controlled train wreck,” as you can spend about three and a half hours laying on your back on the pad waiting for launch, only to suddenly feel yourself being nearly thrown out of your seat while trying to continue operating the shuttle.
When Linnehan brought his presentation to an end, he reminded his audience and the students gathered in front of him that the future of space exploration relies upon taking risks, for our “species is about exploration, and that’s what we do best.”