Face to Face with a Astronaut


About The Author

""Brian Santhumayor of Nanthoor, Mangalore, has a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and MBA in Marketing and works as an Account Manager for an enterprise software firm in Manhattan. He actively writes articles on US Foreign Policy, UN and World Affairs. He volunteers by fundraising for numerous non-profit organizations including the American India foundation run by President Bill Clinton and has won numerous awards for his charitable efforts.

On Dec. 9, 2006, 8:47 p.m. EDT, I along with millions of Americans watched in fascination as the Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off on the STS-116 mission, lighting up the sky over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during the first nighttime launch in more than four years. The shuttle was commanded by Astronaut Mark Polansky and included Indian American Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, William A. Oefelein, Joan E. Higginbotham, Robert L. Curbeam, Nicholas J.M. Patrick and Christer Fuglesang. As America cheered the success of the launch, there were celebrations and jubilations in my hometown of Edison, New Jersey.  The reason for this big celebration in Edison was that Mark Polansky is a native of Edison, New Jersey.

Brian with Astronaut Mark Polansky

A lot of children dream of becoming an Astronaut when they grow up and many of us adults wonder how it would be traveling to outer space! The furthest I have got to space is by watching Star Trek! Well, this dream became a reality for Astronauts Mark Polansky and Sunita Williams. His mother, Edith, remembers that in 1961, when he was 5, he watched as Walter Cronkite announced that Alan Shepard had become the first American to be launched into space. "Mark just sat there mesmerized," she said. Mark began making that dream a reality when he was in college at Purdue University. Among the school’s graduates are the first and last men to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. Polansky met Cernan when the Apollo 17 commander visited the school. In 1996, NASA selected Polansky as an astronaut. Five years later he flew his first shuttle mission. The STS-98 flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis was an early visit to the International Space Station. Sunita Williams, whose parents are from India, also was fascinated with space as a five-year old kid. She saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and thought, ‘wow –that’s cool.’ Her dream became a reality when she went to the Test Pilot School in Maryland and became a Navy helicopter pilot and ultimately went on to become an Astronaut. During her stay in space she set a record for space walks by a female astronaut, conducting four excursions over 29 hours and 17 minutes.

I was pleasantly surprised when I received an invitation from the Edison Public Library to attend a welcome ceremony for Astronaut Polansky. Polansky, an Edison native and graduate of J.P. Stevens High School, returned to his alma mater Monday after commanding STS-116, the space shuttle mission to the International Space Station last December. Edison Mayor Jun H. Choi, who said he once dreamed of being an astronaut, proclaimed Monday "Mark Polansky Day" in welcoming the space hero back to his hometown. It was a pleasure to see Polansky receive a hero’s welcome as he was given the ceremonial key to the township. Polansky also returned a cylinder with a recording of President Theodore Roosevelt’s voice that he had borrowed from the Thomas A. Edison Menlo Park Museum to take into space.


During his visit to Edison on Monday, May 7th, I along with some of the Edison residents got the opportunity to speak to the Astronaut and ask him about his experience in space.  He said that the perspective from space gave him a glimpse of the global warming that few see first hand. "The Earth is a very, very fragile planet," Polansky said. "You see the thin layer of blue. It’s the only thing that separates us from total extinction. I did see the problems in the atmosphere — the haze and pollution." Polansky said being in space also made him more philosophical.

"You’re going about five miles per second, so you can’t see the borders of the countries. The Middle East is tremendous browns and deep reds, next to blue water. It’s very serene and beautiful, then you start thinking about what’s going on over there," he said.

Brian with Mayor of Edison Jun Choi

Polansky said that keeping students, especially girls, interested in science, math and engineering is key to the continued success of the country’s space program. "This country really needs kids to be interested in math, science and technology," Polansky said. "We need to make sure that we don’t lose our edge. We really need to make sure that girls feel that way." Polansky said he was impressed with the amount of females there were in the physics class he had visited and said that historically, women lose interest in those subjects. "We need to make sure they realize they have the exact same opportunities as the guys do," Polansky said.

I was very impressed to meet with Astronaut Mark Polansky.  I have always fantasized about traveling to outer space but here was someone I met in person who actually became an astronaut and commander and that is a huge inspiration!!  Hopefully, we will have more astronauts of Indian origin making future trips to space!

Author: Brian Santhumayor- USA