One visitor attending Monday’s solar eclipse festivities was curious.
“You know you said you lost that tool bag,” the person questioned Stephen G. Bowen, a NASA astronaut and one of the featured speakers during Hopkinsville Community College’s day-long eclipse events. “Where did it go?”
Standing onstage in the HCC Auditorium Building, Bowen knew exactly where his bag had gone, and he told the person, a member of his audience.
“Eventually, it burned up on re-entry,” said Bowen, who shared the story of encountering a problem during his very first spacewalk as an astronaut.
It was November of 2008 and Bowen had taken a 16-day trip to the International Space Station.
He would have two more — a 12-day mission in May 2010 and 13 days in March 2011 on Space Shuttle Discovery.
In total, he’s logged 40 days, 10 hours, 4 minutes and 37 seconds in space.
A native of Cohasset, Massachusetts, Bowen is a Navy submariner and an astronaut since 2000 for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
He has flown on three space flights, all of them missions to the International Space Station, and on Monday he regaled his diverse audience with stories of his experiences as an astronaut.
An impromptu poll of the crowd by HCC Chief Institutional Advancement Officer Yvette Eastman revealed visitors from as far away as Germany, Ecuador, France and the Dominican Republic.
Bowen told the group that there were 18,000 applicants for his job at NASA.
“Only a few get chosen so I felt fortunate to be chosen,” said Bowen, who quipped that “I have no idea how to become an astronaut.
“I just felt fortunate I was chosen.”
As an astronaut, Bowen drank his first cup of tea using chopsticks, he said.
From the vantage point of that first space flight, he looked down upon Boston, near the city where he grew up.
Back down on earth, his sister was looking up at the very same time.
“She didn’t wave though,” Bowen said.
He noted that when folks on earth see a space station go overhead, “we’re in sunlight and you’re in darkness.”
In May of 2010, Bowen took part in what was the 32nd shuttle flight to the International Space Station.
During seven days of operations while the shuttle was docked with the space station, he logged 14 hours and 34 minutes in two spacewalks, according to his biography at nasa.gov.
During that first walk, former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman and Bowen installed a spare antenna and a stowage platform. On the second walk, Bowen and astronaut Michael Good replaced batteries on the P6 truss that stores solar energy. A final walk involved Good and Reisman replacing the last of the P6 truss batteries and retrieving a power data grapple fixture to install later.
Bowen said he thought the 2010 flight would be his last, but the following year, a fellow astronaut preparing for the space shuttle Discovery’s final mission was injured in a bicycle accident.
“Six weeks later I was jumping into space,” Bowen said on Monday.
He entertained his HCC audience with a video showcasing the antics of Bowen and his fellow astronauts at NASA.
“Astronauts really don’t spend a third of their time in space goofing off,” he assured those watching the men on screen float about, perform flips and eat their food in mid-air.
Folks chuckled at seeing the men floating around in zero gravity.
At one point during his presentation, Bowen expressed his appreciation for the astronauts’ Thanksgiving picture.
“We’re all in here,” he quips. “Here’s my arm.”
The astronaut also on Monday touched on NASA’s plans for the future, telling his audience that the agency wants to get out of the lower earth orbit business.
There’s interest in going back to the moon, he said, and in going on to Mars.
“It’s not just a notional thing anymore,” he explained. “(They’re) looking now into the deep space gateway, establishing a presence near the moon to begin testing things out and doing research.”
Bowen notes that the moon offers a great opportunity to test things out, and, among others, he quotes Stephen Hawking.
The theoretical physicist says a single-planet species doesn’t survive, Bowen said.
REACH TONYA S. GRACE at 270-887-3240 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.