By Cindy Etgen, Maryland Project WET Coordinator
Project WET Maryland Coordinator Cindy Etgen had a front-row seat, literally, to Astronaut Ricky Arnold’s liftoff to the International Space Station. She and her husband, Lou, are longtime personal friends of the Arnold family and had been invited to be a part of Ricky’s journey to the ISS. She told us about her experiences in this guest post.
When Ricky and his family asked us to join them on this journey, we did not hesitate for a second. We have spent the last 15+ years traveling several times a year with the Arnold family: For us this was another family adventure. Being able to support his wife and daughters through a very emotional and stressful trip was important to both Lou and me. We were there for Ricky’s Discovery launch in 2009, and we wanted to be there for them this time as well.
Drew Feustel. Our time in Russia included tours, visits to Red Square and other historical sites in Moscow and a visit to Star City, where the cosmonauts and astronauts train. At Star City, we got to see where Ricky lived during his training in Russia. We also got to see mock-ups of the Mir Space Station and the Russian components of the International Space Station. Seeing the size of the capsule that Ricky would be traveling in for 48 hours on his way to the ISS was mind-boggling. Three men would be sitting in an area roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle for the launch. Another area about the same size is attached above for eating, removing their spacesuits and for resting.The whole trip involved much more than just witnessing the launch. NASA prepared a very full schedule for family and friends of both Ricky and the other astronaut flying to the ISS,
After Moscow, we traveled to the small Russian enclave of Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where we got to see the rollout of the Soyuz vehicle via train to the launch pad. The raising of the rocket on the pad came next. We did get to see Ricky more often this time than we had during his Discovery launch—although he was always behind glass because he was in quarantine. We had time to talk to him with just our small family group, and we were able to attend the press conference as well. During his walk outs—to the bus leaving for the launch site in their blue flight suits and then again at the launch site to the Soyuz rocket in their space suits—we were incredibly close, in the front row, and he could always see that we were there cheering him on. Ricky always tried to get as close to us as he could!
After experiencing the Discovery launch, where the closest viewing point was about 4 miles away, being able to view the Soyuz rocket launch from 9/10 of a mile was beyond amazing. Front row seats! And what a view it was!
Our last stop before the airport back in Moscow was Russian Mission Control to watch the Docking and Hatch opening. That meant more tours, more celebrating and more tears of happiness!
I am still processing this adventure, so much of it was surreal. However, I know that I will always remember my experience and, in particular, three things:
As you can see by the pictures, Ricky always had a smile on his face. He is incredibly happy. He is pursuing his dreams with the support of the people who love him most. By going on this journey, he has given us the adventure of a lifetime. His happiness reminds me that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how big. With persistence, hard work and joy, anything is obtainable.
I will also remember our NASA escorts, Kelly and Tom. They handled all of the crazy details with grace, humor and professionalism. We met so many incredible people, many of them astronauts, and they were kind, funny and always willing to answer questions. We had a great time having meals together, and they bonded with our crazy group, often staying up with us into the late hours.
Finally, from the water realm, I was reminded yet again to never take for granted clean water coming out of our faucets. In Moscow, the water that came out of the shower was often brown, and in Baikonur we had to use bottled water even to brush our teeth. When you go to a country where you can’t drink the water, eat fresh salads or eat fruit that can’t be peeled, it puts things in perspective. In most places in the United States, we have ready access to fresh, potable water. When you travel abroad, it quickly reminds you that so many do not have the advantages of clean, safe water.
NASA announced that September 2017 to September 2018 is A Year of Education on Station for the International Space Station (ISS), featuring a variety of education-related events for students and teachers. Astronaut Richard (Ricky) Arnold, a volunteer board member for the Project WET Foundation, is the educator on board the ISS for the latter half of this year—from March to September 2018. The Project WET Foundation is developing numerous educational offerings to coincide with Ricky's journey and the Year of Education. To see all of the resources, visit projectwet.org/outofthisworld.