NASA astronaut on ’emotional flip’ of launches and just how weird the Sun looks

A NASA astronaut told of the "emotional flip" during launches and how "unsettling" sunlight becomes in space.

Mark Vande Hei, 54, could spend up to a year on the International Space Station after he and two Russian cosmonauts landed there safely last Friday.

He recalled his first long-duration spaceflight in 2017 on NASA's Houston We Have a Podcast shortly before blasting off again.

He said: "So, the launch, for me, happened 0 Dark Thirty, I can't remember the exact time. I just do remember it was a not a normal time for me to be awake.

"Very emotional when you're driving away to say goodbye to everybody. And there's a huge crowd of people cheering you on and you feel like a rock star and then it was shocking though how excited you could feel and then it gets really quiet on the bus and it's dark out and you're driving out into the desert in Kazakhstan to a rocket that's all by itself.

"So, we got into the spacecraft and they close us in, get us securely buckled down and then everybody else leaves and you're just sitting out there. So, I guess what I'm trying to convey is a sense of tremendous community and celebratory, and then shockingly quiet and isolated.

"And so that was an emotional flip that I didn't expect. Once you get into the process of going through all the checklist to prepare for the launch, that starts seeming, you've practiced this multiple times, you're very focused and even the launch, the launch was so smooth that the biggest shock to me was that nothing went wrong, because all of our training has things going wrong every moment."

He explained how he "wanted a better story" and to use all his emergency training but the launch was "really smooth".

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He added: "The sunlight was interesting. It's gorgeous, very bright. But there's something a little unsettling about it.

"And it occurred to me that every time I've experienced any sunlight before I was in orbit, it was always scattered by the atmosphere of the Earth.

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"So, you never really get sunlight that's just direct from one spot. It's always coming from multiple directions because it hits other parts of the atmosphere and gets bent in your direction too. So that's why it was beautiful but weird, if that makes sense.

"And I couldn't put my finger on what is unsettling about this. So, it was very stark brightness and stark darkness in the shadows as we quickly would move as the spacecraft would go to different angles with the sun. And they had this little window next to me.

"Getting to the space station, I'll never forget looking out over my left shoulder and seeing the solar rays, much bigger than I ever expected them to be."

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