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Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter where you go,
If it’s a million miles away, or just a mile up the road.
Take it in. Take it with you when you go.
Who says you can’t go home?”

So says New Jersey-born rocker Jon Bon Jovi in a hit song he penned several years ago. I don’t know if astronaut Garrett Reisman, another New Jersey native, is a Bon Jovi fan, but he can probably relate to the sentiments expressed in that song. As I write this he either feels like he’s a million miles away from home, or like he’s back home. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Reisman, you see, is part of the STS-132 team that flew to the International Space Station (ISS) late last week aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. You could say it was a homecoming of sorts for him. In March 2008 he traveled to the ISS aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and lived there for 95 days while he helped install a Canadian-built robotic manipulator called Dextre.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Garrett Reisman shortly after he returned to Earth from that mission, and aside from missing his wife, it sounded like he really enjoyed living in space for three months. The most fun, he said, was learning how to live – and work – in a zero-gravity environment. At times it made him feel, in his words, “like a superhero,” because he could fly; at other times it could be terribly frustrating because if you put down a tool or drop a part, it could float away before you had a chance to react. And unlike here on Earth, you can’t just trot down to the local hardware store and pick up a new one.

Remaining cool and calm under pressure is pretty much part of an astronaut’s job description because, just like here on Earth, nothing ever seems to go as smoothly as it should out in space. On his first trip to the space station, Reisman had to deal with some significant problems while installing Dextre, including stuck bolts and a power feed problem that could have prevented the robot’s heaters from working properly, damaging the apparatus. During one of his spacewalks this week, a partial power outage caused the space station’s main command and control computer to malfunction, leaving Reisman temporarily stranded at the end of a 58-foot long robotic arm 250 miles above the Earth. It took a half-hour to solve that problem. According to NASA, Reisman was never in any real danger, but I’ve got a hunch he didn’t know that at the time. Can you imagine how long a half-hour must seem when you’re sitting out in the middle of nowhere…literally? That’s why he’s up there doing it, and I’m down here just writing about it.

No doubt about it – our astronauts are a special breed. Over the last half-century, they’ve amazed us, impressed us, and done much to make us proud. Well, with the possible exception of Buzz Aldrin’s recent stint on Dancing with the Stars that is, but I digress. With the retirement of the space shuttle and NASA’s new direction going forward, it will be interesting to see what role they will play in the future of America’s space program. But for now, Garrett Reisman and the crew of the Atlantis probably aren’t worried about any of that. As the song goes:

“I’ve been there, done that, now I ain’t lookin’ back.
It’s been a long, long road, feels like I’ve never left.
That’s how the story goes.
Who says you can’t go home?”

Certainly not us. Have a safe trip back guys. And thank you for all you’ve done.