Friday, July 31, 2009

“Hi Mom, I’m Calling from Outer Space”

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
Parents often field telephone calls from their adult children and actually look forward to hearing from their kids after they’ve grown and left the house. Few parents, however, have experienced what York resident Janice Cassidy did on July 22 when her son Christopher called her. Christopher, you see, was calling from outer space. He is a member of the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s crew and is currently orbiting the globe.
“He said ‘hi mom,’ I’m calling from outer space,” Cassidy said. “He had done his first space walk and had a problem with his suit. He called to reassure us. The call was crystal clear.”
This is Christopher’s first time in space, after being accepted as an astronaut in 2004. Prior to that, he served as a Navy Seal. Janice said Christopher’s desire to get into space developed relatively recently.
“He hasn’t always dreamed about it,” she said. “He started thinking about it 10 to 12 years ago when he was a Navy Seal. He followed the course he thought best to do it and got his Master’s Degree. Almost all (the astronauts) have their Master’s. Some have doctorates.”
Janice said Chris’ decision to pursue a career in the military was not immediately obvious when he was a youngster, but there were indications. “His favorite toy growing up was a GI Joe,” she said. “We still have it in the attic. Chris said ‘don’t throw him out.’ When we went to the library he’d pick out records and his favorite were military marches. He’d play them and march around the house.”
The launch for this shuttle trip turned out to be a difficult process, with several delays. Janice traveled to Cape Canaveral to see the launch in person. “It was an incredible thing, amazing and very emotional” she said. “The launch had been postponed five times, three at the last moment. That was so disappointing for everybody. By the time it finally went off, I wasn’t nervous, just excited.”
Families of the crewmembers had a special vantage point for the launch, Janice said, about a half-mile away across a body of water, sitting in bleachers. “We were as close as anyone other than the workers,” she said. “One of the thrills was the families were treated to a special tour of the Kennedy Space Center (before the day of the launch). They took us right up to the gate. It was very interesting.”
Janice has been monitoring the flight closely. “He’s done three space walks,” she said. “I watch them on my computer. You can see as clear as anything and can see everything he’s doing. It’s amazing, especially when it’s your son.”
When not in outer space, Chris lives in Houston with his wife and three children. Chris has a younger brother, Jeffrey, who lives in Argentina currently. “He’s there for a couple of years,” Janice said. “He’s heading up the Argentinean office of a computer security company.”
Chris’ flight is expected to return to earth of July 31, but Janice has no plans to go back to Florida to witness the landing. “I’ll schedule a trip to Houston when he’s back and settled down,” she said. “There I can spend time and actually talk with him. I’ll be very interested to see what he has to say. In his emails, he says you can’t imagine how exciting and how much fun it is. Right now, I’m anxious to get them all home safe and sound.”
After five years as an astronaut, Chris hasn’t changed all that much, Janice said. “He is very down to earth,” she said. “He’s an honest and upstanding person, lots of fun, a great father, husband, and a great son.”
Photo caption: Janice Cassidy and her son Chris, an astronaut, at the Space Shuttle launch site at Cape Canaveral. (Courtesy photo)