U.S. Astronaut Readapts to Life on Earth
Astronaut Clay Anderson, ISS Expedition 15 flight engineer, pauses for a photo while using a camera near the aft flight deck of space shuttle Endeavour while docked with the International Space Station during NASA's STS-118 mission.
Credit: NASA.

A NASA astronaut is settling back into life on Earth after a five-month trek to the International Space Station (ISS).

U.S. spaceflyer Clayton Anderson worked in Earth orbit for about 153 days while serving on two ISS crews during his long-duration spaceflight. He has spent the last few weeks undergoing physical rehabilitation to rebuild muscle mass after months of floating in microgravity.

"I feel really good," Anderson told SPACE.com Thursday. "I'm starting to run a little bit and my muscles are coming back. I haven't walked into a wall in over two weeks, so everything is going well."

Anderson, 48, launched toward the ISS on June 8 during NASA's STS-117 shuttle flight and joined the station's Expedition 15 crew. He stayed aboard the ISS in October to join the newly arrived Expedition 16 crew. The spaceflyer returned to Earth aboard NASA's shuttle Discovery on Nov. 7 during the STS-120 mission.

The spaceflight marked the first of Anderson's NASA career, which began almost 25 years ago when he signed on at the agency's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston in early 1983. After 15 attempts, he was selected to join NASA's astronaut corps in 1998.

"I was in space only because of the people here at JSC who helped to shape me and make who I am throughout those 25 years," Anderson said. "It's an honor and a privilege to be up there and represent them and the things that they're doing."

Anderson performed three spacewalks to support ISS construction and worked alongside NASA's visiting STS-117, STS-118 and STS-120 shuttle crews during his spaceflight. The station received a pair of new solar arrays, a vital connecting module and weathered computer glitches, a ripped solar wing and other hurdles during the three shuttle missions.

"So I think they wanted to get me back onto the ground so some of that would stop, and it looks like it may have worked," joked Anderson.

A native Ashland, Nebraska, Anderson is his home state's first astronaut to fly and was known for his sense of humor in orbit. On Halloween, he donned a black cape to dress up as a space vampire and held daily trivia contests with Mission Control.

"I think that's what people need to see," Anderson said. "They need to see that we live on the station just like we live on the ground, and I didn't want to change who I am while up there."

Aside from readapting to Earth's gravity and rebuilding lost muscle mass, Anderson said there are other challenges to returning to life on his home planet.

"The hardest part is, I couldn't remember any of my passwords or how to operate my TV or my phone, so my son had to show me all that stuff," Anderson said, adding that he is readjusting to life with his family close by after months communicating solely by video conference and telephone.

He also enjoyed returning home in time for Thanksgiving to celebrate the U.S. holiday with his wife Susan, son Cole and daughter Sutton Marie.

"I was so tired of smoked turkey and dressing and a tortilla in space that, to have the real thing and be there with my family was an incredibly wonderful day," Anderson said.