Exclusive: Two iconic American astronauts talk Earth, Mars and outer space

Maariv reporter Stav Namer shares her exclusive interviews with Garrett Erin Reisman and Sandra Hall Magnus with The Jerusalem Post.

August 13, 2019 03:03
Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus (L) and Mission Specialist Rex Waldheim of the Space Shuttle Atlant

Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus (L) and Mission Specialist Rex Waldheim of the Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 crew exit their quarters for travel to launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 8, 2011. The 12-day mission to the International Space Station is the last. (photo credit: REUTERS/SCOTT AUDETTE)

At any given time, NASA has around 60 astronauts. In Israel, there are next to none. In fact, Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, traveled to space as recently as January 2003 on the Space Shuttle Columbia, which ultimately broke apart during reentry into the atmosphere.

However, earlier this year, two well-known space travelers visited Israel with the support of Israel’s Science and Technology Ministry. Stav Namer, news editor and tech correspondent for The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew sister paper Maariv, got in touch with them.

Recently, she was able to interview American engineers and former NASA astronauts Garrett Erin Reisman, 51, and Sandra Hall Magnus, 54.

Magnus told Namer that she knew she wanted to be an astronaut from the time she was in middle school. Back then, however, it was uncommon for women to travel to space. To date, only about 10% of people who have flown to space have been women.

“At the beginning of the US space program, the fact was that women did not have the qualifications that NASA was looking for because the jobs that would have given them those qualifications – test pilots – were closed to women,” Magnus told Namer.

“It was only when the space shuttle program started flying – when NASA expanded the skill sets that they were looking for to include scientists and engineers and doctors – that women could apply.”

“Later, when the military started producing women test pilots, then women had the right qualifications to pilot and command the shuttle,” she continued.

“So, at the root of the problem is creating an environment where women are capable of getting the right training and opportunity to apply for jobs like this.

“Luckily things are better today, but globally we are still fighting to get women engaged in science and engineering and technology, and once they are engaged, make sure they have opportunities to succeed.”

MAGNUS HAS spent a collective four and a half months in space.

“It was amazing to me how fast it is possible to adapt to space,” she said. “So, it felt very normal to be floating and looking out the window and seeing the Earth go by.”

But she also said that being in space affects taste, smell and muscle strength. She noted that the fluid shift that results from living in microgravity makes it feel like one has a head cold, and impacts the taste of food.

Moreover, she explained, “If you stay in space longer than two weeks it is possible to start losing minerals from your bones and for your muscles to atrophy.”

“If you exercise, however, the way they prescribe for you, then you can come home with no bone or muscle loss,” she continued.

“I exercised every day while I lived on the International Space Station (ISS) and thus had no bone or muscle deterioration. Every time I came home, however, I did have to spend some time regaining my balance.”

Reisman described a similar experience, having no long-term negative effects from his 107 collective days – three and a half months – in space. But “after landing, my sense of balance was not working very well at all.”

He only decided to be an astronaut when he was in college and realized that his engineering degrees and other hobbies, such as flying and scuba diving, would make him a reasonable candidate.

He told Namer that he thinks being an astronaut will always be a popular job.

“We still set records for the number of applicants every time NASA holds an astronaut selection round,” he said.

But Reisman said he does believe that the industry is shifting from being publicly funded to more public-private partnerships. He said there is an advantage that private companies enjoy during the design and development stages of new spacecraft, which is faster decision speed.

“The public-private partnerships such as NASA’s commercial cargo and commercial crew programs are the best model for future space exploration,” he said.

Reisman also noted that Israel should take pride in its recent attempt to land on the moon, calling it “a tremendous accomplishment.”

If Magnus and Reisman could visit any planet which one would it be?

Mars, they both said.

“We might be able to live there someday,” Reisman said.

Added Magnus: “Mars is the closest and therefore the easiest to get to.”

Stav Namer shared her interviews with The Jerusalem Post. Read the original Hebrew article and other articles by Namer here.

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