Plainfield High School – Central Campus physics teacher Nickey Walker met retired astronaut Mark Kelly at a recent gathering of suburban STEM teachers at the College of DuPage.
Kelly, who commanded the space shuttle Endeavor on its last flight, told the audience that he initially told NASA that he could not complete the assignment because his wife, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, Walker said.
But Giffords insisted, so Kelly was in space even as she underwent one of her final surgeries.
The former Naval pilot said flying the space shuttle was like “flying a Coke machine,” Walker said. “He said it was a great rocket, but it was the worst plane he’d ever flown,” adding that once the shuttle was fueled, it was a “bomb on a hill,” Walker said.
He told the audience that the shuttle re-enters the earth’s atmosphere by slowing from 17,500 miles per hour, to 17,300 miles per hour. The temperature is 500 degrees outside the capsule, because of the friction with the earth’s atmosphere, Walker said.
Kelly also shared stories about walking in space, noting that temperatures rose to 200 degrees in the sun, but plummeted to a negative 150 degrees in the shade.
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