VeteranNASA astronaut BillMcArthur has no qualms about hanging up his spacesuit after his stint ascommander of the International Space Station (ISS), but leaving the orbitallaboratory behind last month was no easy task.
"We did seethe space station recede in our view with a very strong sense of sadnessbecause it was home for us," McArthur told SPACE.com in a recent telephoneinterview. "It's of course wonderful to be back."
McArthur, originally fromWakulla, North Carolina, spent six months in command of the ISS alongsideRussian cosmonaut and flight engineer Valery Tokarev during their Expedition12 mission. The two astronauts and ISS visitor MarcosPontes - Brazil's first astronaut - returned toEarth last month.
"I thinkour recovery has gone quite well, and it's nice to be home with friends andfamily," said McArthur, who will discuss his 190-day spaceflight - the last ofhis astronaut career - with the public tonight at the Space Center Houston nearNASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
TheExpedition 12 crew arrivedat the ISS in October 2005 with the visiting U.S. space tourist GregoryOlsen. McArthur and Tokarev performed two spacewalksduring their flight, as well as a myriad of experiments and maintenance tasks.They also launched an unmannedspacesuit into orbit from the ISS and caught a rare orbital view of a solar eclipse'sshadow on the Earth.
Like pastNASA astronauts, McArthur recorded a series of educationalvideos to describe the experience of living in space.
"I think itwas a success because of not only the good training...but also the good relationshipbetween us and between NASA and the Russian space agency," said Tokarev, whorepeatedly referred to McArthur as his "space brother" throughout theirmission, in an interview.
Expedition12 marked the first long-duration spaceflight for both Tokarev and McArthur.Tokarev previously flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1999's STS-96mission, while McArthur served aboard three orbiter missions.
Of all his spaceflights,McArthur said Expedition 12 stands out, and not just because it was his last.
"On each ofmy shuttle flights, at the end of the flight, I'd always hoped that we wouldhave a weather wave off day or two so we could stay in orbit just a littlelonger," he said. "I kind of liken it to the difference between taking avacation to an interesting place and living in that place. We lived in spacefor six months and it was a thrill."
With NASA'sspace shuttle fleet bound for a 2010retirement and a large number of astronauts still yet to fly, McArthur saidhe believed it was time stay Earthbound to allow others the same spaceflight opportunitieshe experienced.
"I'm readyto sit on the sidelines as they go forward, and hopefully one of them will goto Mars," he added.
But nomatter where future astronauts reach out in space, they will likely not forget theirhome planet, Tokarev told SPACE.com, adding that he appreciated the warmEarthly reception from Russian and U.S. flight controllers after landing.
"There'sonly one planet for each of us," Tokarev said of Earth. "It's our home."
NASAastronaut Bill McArthur will discuss his Expedition 12 spaceflight, as well aspresent slides, video and answer questions about the mission at the SpaceCenter Houston (1601 NASA Parkway, 281-244-2100) beginning at 6:30 p.m. CDT. Doorsopen at 6:00 p.m. CDT. The event is free to the public.
- Safe Landing: Brazil's First Astronaut, ISS Crew Return to Earth
- Fun in Space: Astronauts Bring Antics Down to Earth
- Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12
- Gregory Olsen: Third Space Tourist Aims for Orbit