NASA astronaut and decorated Navy fighter pilot Barry Wilmore will return to space next week as he and two Russian cosmonauts will launch to the International Space Station for a mission designed to last six months.
A 1981 graduate of Mt. Juliet High School and a former football standout for the Golden Bears, Wilmore and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova -- have been preparing for their time on the International Space Station for nearly two years.
The trio is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday, Sept. 25. Wilmore, who will take over as commander of the ISS later in the year, spoke recently about an important task scheduled for early 2015.
"Two spacewalks are planned currently -- things could change, they always do -- but they're planned for this mission and basically it's to prepare for the future," Wilmore said.
"We have commercial vehicles that are now being designed to launch humans from Earth up to the space station, and when they do they will dock, but our docking apparatus was used during the shuttle program, and we don't have the end of those so they could match up correctly.
"So we have these docking adapters that we will put on the end of the shuttle docking to make this connection for the new vehicle correct. The only problem is they just don't snap on and work, they have to have power, so the power cables and systems that were designed for the shuttle system are not the same for these docking adapters, so eventually the docking adapters go on but when they get there they got to have power.
"So Terry Virts and I right now are scheduled to run some cables -- we're the cable guys! We're going to run it from some of the power sources on the station, back at the base, the hub of the station, if you will, out to a couple of these docking points and we will run those cables and tie them down and set 'em up and plug 'em in at the right spots, and when you talk about taking a 30-foot cable or in, longer, and manhandling that when you're out in the zero gravity, the weightless environment outside with boxing gloves on, basically it's very challenging.
"So, right now that's our plan, we're the cable guys, we're going to route cables for the future, for those docking adapters, and that should take place, if it goes as planned, in the January/February time frame. That's planned but, of course, like I said, there's many other things, contingencies that could happen that we're also trained for and are ready to do those as well."
This will not be Wilmore's first time at the ISS, but it is the longest. The Tennessee Tech graduate was part of an 11-day space shuttle mission to the space station in 2009. This mission figures to be in stark contrast from his last trip to the ISS.
"You know, when I was there on the space shuttle, it was about a two-week mission and I was a pilot for STS-129, and it was busy, busy. A space shuttle mission is go, go, go, go, go. You only have so much time, so much oxygen in your tank so you can't stay, only for a certain period of time, and you've just got to get as much accomplished as you can.
"I just wanted to stick my nose in the window for three hours, you know, two complete revolutions around the globe, but I never had time. I think the longest period of time I had was about 20 minutes, and, in any one setting.
"So I think one thing that I personally, from a personal standpoint, look forward to is sticking my nose in the windows of the Cupola for a couple of revs around the Earth and just watching the beautiful Earth go by. Yeah, that I'm looking forward to personally."
NASA.com contributed to this article --