Retired NASA astronaut Jack Fischer talks spacesuit challenges and the International Space Station in ‘Virtual Astronaut’ panel


A retired NASA astronaut will discuss how the International Space Station helps us model good teamwork on Earth, in an online panel discussion Friday (Oct. 30).

Expedition 51/52 astronaut Jack Fischer will participate in the panel discussion by The Virtual Astronaut series, which is bringing online talks by astronauts to the general public. The panel discussion will review the importance of 20 years of continuous human occupation on the International Space Station (ISS), and will be moderated by founder and contributor Robert Pearlman. You can buy tickets here.

Fischer, who is also a retired United States Air Force colonel, said that he found the ISS was helpful in bringing a greater value to cooperation even amid international disagreements. 

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While Fischer did not cite specific examples, one prominent recent incident was a 2014 comment by then Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin suggesting the U.S. should use trampolines to reach space. This comment was a dig against the U.S. relying on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transportation to and from the ISS in between the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011 and the start of commercial crew missions this year. Rogozin was also angry concerning sanctions the Americans put in place against Russian officials after his country’s invasion of Crimea earlier that year.

“Abstracting the value that people have to each other is what is most important,” Fischer said of the ISS, whose research and missions continued uninterrupted despite the spat between the largest space station partners. “You have a conversation. When there are disagreements, we can talk to each other. We can step back and know that what’s truly important, and what is at the core of our being, is the same. We can get along, and we can do great things.” He added this approach should also work within the United States, even amid divisions of different interest groups.

Fischer was selected as an astronaut in 2009 and spent much of his first six years at NASA helping to develop the spacecraft making the news today: the SpaceX Crew Dragon that ferried the first commercial crew to space earlier this year, the Boeing Starliner that is also expected to start commercial crew missions in the near future, and the Orion spacecraft that NASA hopes to send around the moon in 2021 in preparation for its first crewed mission in 2023.

Then Fischer moved into a nearly three-year training cycle in 2014 for his own space mission, which launched in 2017. Most of that time was spent in Russia training to be a Soyuz pilot, he said, with the rest of the training focused on acquiring generic skills in spaceflight for skills like robotics, science and spacewalks. “You’re not really sure what’s going to meet you when you get up there,” he said. “A cargo vehicle could explode. Things break. So you need to be a generalist to adapt to the situation when you get there.”

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