JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight, the space shuttle Endeavour launched Monday on a 16-day mission.
And this morning NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien talked with the crew, posing questions sent in from viewers like you in a collaboration of Google, YouTube, and the NewsHour.
Here are some excerpts, including his talk with astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, now recovering from an assassination attempt.
MILES O’BRIEN: This one is a text question from St. Marys, Ohio. This one is — he says, “Mr. Gifford, it is difficult — is it difficult leaving your wife even though she’s doing well? I think she would want to be where you are now. God bless you and your wife and the whole crew.”
And, Mark, I will just button it up with, I know Gabby had surgery yesterday. I assume you have had some updates. How are things going?
CMDR. MARK KELLY, NASA Astronaut: Well, I had the chance at the end of the day to call her mom and her chief of staff and my brother periodically through the — as the surgery was going on. And she’s doing really well.
Everything went as planned. Her neurosurgeons are very happy. She’s recuperating. And she’s actually getting back to therapy today. So, it went — it went really, really well.
MILES O’BRIEN: Now, of course, Gabby was at the launch. I understand you’re carrying her wedding ring with you. I don’t know. Do you have it on you?
And also, I’m just curious. In the — I know you have a busy day up there.
Oh, you have it. Let’s see it. That’s great, right around your neck, OK. In the course of your…
MARK KELLY: It’s right there.
MILES O’BRIEN: In the course of your busy day, obviously, you have a lot to think about up there. Your thoughts must go to her as well.
MARK KELLY: Yes. Obviously, this has been a long road since Jan. 8 for us.
It — her having surgery yesterday was not planned all along, but she was ready, and the doctors, you know, wanted to do it then. And it didn’t make sense to wait a couple weeks until I got back. So, I’ve been thinking a little bit — a little bit about that. But it’s a pretty common surgery and it went really well.
She was really excited to be at the launch, really enjoyed it a lot.
MILES O’BRIEN: I will tell you what. Pass the mike over to Ron Garan. Ron, who is a space station keeper and has spent a little bit of time up there.
You tweeted a photo of the Mississippi River the other day. And NASA has been sending images as well. What’s it like to see the devastation of that flooding from space?
COL. RON GARAN (RET.), NASA Astronaut: Well, Miles, that’s an interesting question, because, you know, we — we do have this sense of isolation being up here, you know, living off the planet.
But at the same time, you know, even though we have this sense of isolation, we have — we have the ability to be more connected with things on the ground, because we fly over it all the time.
So, you know, watching, you know, the Mississippi River flooding on the news and then flying over it are two different things. And seeing with our own eyes the devastation and the tragedy that’s going on in that area of the country, you know, is really something. And we feel a responsibility to try and document that as best we can as time allows and take as many pictures of that area as we can.
MILES O’BRIEN: Drew Feustel, this one from The Grinnin’ Man from YouTube. The question is, “How realistic is Obama’s promise to visit the planet Mars by 2030? Do you believe it is possible to do it sooner?”
ANDREW FEUSTEL, NASA Astronaut: I think we’re all, as space explorers, interested in eventually getting onto Mars and also visiting the moon, since that’s our nearest neighbor.
In my vision, can we do it sooner? I think we can. And, hopefully, with the progress we’re making with the commercial launch vehicles and what NASA is doing for heavy lift, and with the intent — as long as, you know, we have the intent to make it onto — to Mars eventually, you know, we will get there.
As humans, I don’t think we’ll ever stop exploring. And we’re all excited to be a part of the great adventure.
MILES O’BRIEN: This one comes from Florida on YouTube: “When you’re in orbit, do you have to make a lot of maneuvers due to satellites, space debris and other stuff?”
ANDREW FEUSTEL: The answer is, sometimes. Fortunately, many of those items are tracked for us. Well, all the items that we make maneuvers for are tracked for us. And so we do — we do that from time to time.
I would — it’s not as frequent as some might think. Obviously, the bigger danger for us is items that are not tracked. And that’s especially true for spacewalkers. So, it’s something we think about. But fortunately many of those issues are taken care of by the ground control teams that are watching out for us.
MILES O’BRIEN: All right, that’s about all the time we have.
I’ve got to implore upon you: group somersault. Can you do one for me?
MARK KELLY: Yes, no problem. I think we can do that, right?
MARK KELLY: That’s certainly not as graceful as it could have been.
MARK KELLY: That’s why we usually hesitate to do those.
MILES O’BRIEN: Well…
MARK KELLY: But it’s certainly fun to do.
MILES O’BRIEN: … I got to say, at least you’re having some fun up there. You’re not going to the Olympics with that. Keep — keep the day jobs, guys — or night jobs on this mission.