Friday, October 9, 2009

Astronaut Cassidy Comes Home to York

By Devin Beliveau
Staff Columnist
In the history of the world, only 500 people have ever traveled in space. Included in that exclusive club is York High School graduate Chris Cassidy. Last Thursday Cassidy went back to his alma mater to share his recent space adventure with his hometown.
The YHS gymnasium buzzed with excitement as Cassidy, a member of the class of ’88, took the stage. Commander Cassidy, who was a Mission Specialist on NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavor on a 16-day mission in July, began by describing the nerve-wracking days leading up to the launch. “It was like the 7 days leading up to the Marshwood game,” explained Cassidy, referencing the YHS sports rival.
Cassidy then played a 20-minute video of highlights from his space flight, and added his commentary to the striking images playing on the screen.
After 5 frustrating failed launch attempts, the Endeavor finally launched on July 15 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavor’s mission was to install the Japanese “Kibo” Experiment Facility at the International Space Station (ISS). The ride into space felt “like a pick-up truck” on a dirt road, according to Cassidy.
Endeavor docked at the ISS while travelling at a rate 17,500 mph, or 5 miles per second. “ISS is huge,” Cassidy said of the internationally created space laboratory. “And it’s a testament to what international cooperation can do.”
Once inside ISS, Cassidy glanced out a window to get a glimpse of the earth. The image stunned him to the point that “I was at a loss for words for 10 seconds.” Similarly spectacular images prompted Cassidy to take over 8,000 pictures during his time in space.
During the 11 days spent at ISS, Cassidy spent a combined 5 hours outside the ISS in space during his 2 spacewalks. Most of that time was spent changing batteries. The biggest surprise on his spacewalk was the rapid setting of the sun. “It went from day to night in 18-25 seconds,” Cassidy said. “One of the most fun things, was at the end of the day, just sharing the time to have dinner. There were five nations up there, US astronauts, Russian cosmonauts, Japanese astronauts, a European astronaut from Belgium, and 2 Canadians. Different music, different cultures, different languages, just up there joking around for an hour of social time before bed. Couple that with looking out the window, seeing no borders on the earth, it just really was a great time.”
After the video segment, Cassidy took several questions from the audience.
Summarizing his overall experience, Cassidy said “I had a smile on my face the whole time.” Cassidy plans to stay at NASA for the foreseeable future. “I love my job,” he said simply.
Cassidy mingled with the audience before and after giving his remarks. “He seems like a really nice guy,” commented York resident and space enthusiast Bill Carpenter, who got the chance to meet the local astronaut.
To begin the evening, the audience heard the YHS Chamber Singers perform the Star Spangled Banner. Introductory speakers included York School Committee Chair Marilyn Zotos, YHS Principal Bob Stevens, York Town Manager Robert Yandow, and a representative from Senator Susan Collins’ office. Yandow read a town proclamation that announced Oct. 1st would now be Chris Cassidy Day in the town of York.
Reflecting on this evening full of hometown pride, Cassidy said that he is “truly humbled to get this much attention.”
Photo caption: Astronaut Chris Cassidy, a York native, returned to recount his space shuttle mission in July. (Devin Beliveau photo)