NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain Barry “Butch” Wilmore, a 1994 graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute, captivated an audience of more than 400 people as he talked with students, faculty and board members about his recent mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Attendees also included approximately 120 local middle and high school Science, Technology, Engineering and Math honor students.
Wilmore considers Mt. Juliet his hometown and often refers to Tennessee as “God’s Country.” He graduated from Mt. Juliet High School before receiving an Electronic Engineering degree from Tennessee Tech and then earning a Master’s degree in Aviation Systems in 1994 from the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He went on to become a Navy Pilot before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000.
During his recent visit to UTSI, he shared pictures and highlights from his 167 day ISS mission. He talked about his responsibilities during a typical day onboard the orbiting laboratory, including his two hour daily exercise program to maintain muscle mass due to zero gravity. Living and working 250 nautical miles above the Earth is physically demanding. Due to metabolism changes in space, astronauts have to eat more food per day than they may want in order to maintain body mass.
Wilmore said it takes time to get acclimated to zero gravity, and that you see changes in your body. For example, he said all the calluses on the bottom of his feet went away because he wasn’t walking.
“I had the smoothest feet,” joked Wilmore. “New calluses would form on the top of your feet because you are always hooking onto things to keep you grounded when you are working.”
As part of his Expedition 42 responsibilities, he completed three space walks that lasted several hours each. He described how physically and mentally challenging they can be.
“Spacewalks are ‘wow’ and they are a lot of work,” said Wilmore. “They are 99.8 percent work and .02 percent ‘wow’ and that is hard to beat. You had to think about every little movement you made. Space suites are like a one man space capsule in the shape of a body.”
As part of his presentation at UTSI, Wilmore showed a 19 minute video with footage shot aboard the space station. Much of it was time-lapse video of Earth with unique images of countries around the world, lightning storms, aurora borealis in the north, and wind swept deserts.
In addition, he displayed a replica of the first functional socket wrench he printed in space using a 3D printer. He explained that 3D printer technology could be vital in the future of space exploration to make what cannot be taken into space with them. Due to weight limits for cargo, deep space missions will not be able to carry all the spare parts and tools crews may need along their journey. This game-changing technology would allow future space explorers to “print” critical tools and parts on an as-needed basis, thus freeing up cargo space for life-sustaining consumables.
After his presentation, Wilmore answered questions from the audience before visiting the vacuum chamber at the Space Institute and attending a luncheon in his honor. He also presented UTSI with an autographed picture commemorating the 42nd ISS expedition.
Captain Wilmore poses with some of the UTSI graduate students and former graduate students at the vacuum chamber. L-R: Matt DiMaiolo, David Surmick, Julie King-Swafford, Astronaut Wilmore, Will Stevens, E. Lara Lash, and Jonathan Kolwyck
NASA astronaut Wilmore with two of his biggest fans, Scarlett and Lillian, daughters of Matthew and Lacey Isbell of Jamestown, Tennessee.