Dr James Pawelczyk flew aboard the 1998 NASA STS-90 Space Shuttle mission as a Payload Specialist. During his 16-day Spacelab flight, he and six other crew members orbited the Earth 256 times, covering 6.3 million miles in the process. Now the NASA astronaut has revealed what the space experience was really like.
He described what it was really like “going upstairs” on the iconic Space Shuttle to Express.co.uk.
Dr Pawelczyk said: “You are strapped to one of the most powerful instruments that has ever been created by humankind.
“Being strapped to the front of a freight train just does not do it justice – it is quite a kick in the back.”
To achieve orbit, the shuttle had to accelerate from zero to a speed of almost 18,000 miles per hour (28,968kmh), a speed nine times as fast as an average rifle bullet.
However, he points out his successors will have an even more turbulent time during launch.
He added: And now we have move into the Space Launch System, which will launch next year, this will be the largest rocket ever created by human kind, with 8,800,000lbs of thrust.”
Once the space shuttle escaped the pull of Earth’s gravity, the sensation could not be more marked.
The astronaut said: “If you can imagine yourself falling but not feeling any wind, that is exactly the sensation you have of being in space.
“When we are in orbit, what we are doing is literally falling around the Earth – it is just the Earth’s surface rotates out of the way before we hit it.
“If you close your eyes, you are immediately reaching out for something to grab.
“Because you are almost overwhelmed by the falling sensation, but you come to adapt to it over time.”
STS-90 16-day mission marked the final flight of the European Space Agency’s Spacelab laboratory module.
Dr Jim Pawelczyk is also at pains to remind the public just how remarkable mankind’s progression into space has been, since NASA’s formation in 1958.
He said: “If you are a millennial, you have never known a time when humans have not lived on this planet.
“You have never known a time when we have not had a presence in or the planet Mars.
“We are really witnessing our evolution to a space-faring society.”