Q: The Army was your path to NASA, right?
A: When I made the decision to go to West Point, I thought my dream of being an astronaut was gone. Then I ran into an Army officer who was an astronaut and that rekindled the flame. When NASA selected me in 2004, about half of the astronauts were in the military. I retired from the military in 2015 after 26 years but my job didn't change, just who writes my paycheck.
Q: How has your adventurous life been for your wife and three daughters?
A: Not easy, to be honest. I do get their buy-in before doing anything.
Q: Talk about your space missions.
A: I have been on two. The first was in 2008 on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, lasted 16 days and was incredible. We fixed a lot of things on the Space Station. I was lucky enough to do two spacewalks. The mission I just returned from lasted 173 days and I got the chance to do four spacewalks. We also did about 300 experiments submitted by scientists from all over the world.
Q: Are spacewalks cinematic?
A: It sounds like we do these things all the time but they are very, very rare. Being outside is an extremely dangerous environment. The typical spacewalk is seven hours. Your spacesuit is actually your 300-pound personal spacecraft. When we are out there, we are fixing things or installing new computer equipment. You have to be extremely disciplined and focused not to damage yourself or the equipment.
Q: Do you get to look around?
A: Maybe a few minutes when the folks in mission control are talking. I don't see a lot of stars because of the light emitting from the Space Station, which goes around the Earth every 90 minutes so we get a sunrise and a sunset every 45 minutes. That is pretty cool. We always see our planet whether it is day or night. It is absolutely phenomenal.
Q: Given all the division on Earth, what’s it like being on the Space Station with astronauts from other countries?
A: We as a nation could not do the Space Station program by ourselves. We need Russia and Japan and the European countries. And they need us. It is a great model for society in general.
Q: What do astronauts do when you aren’t in space?
A: Unfortunately, most of our time is not in space. We work technical jobs and support our colleagues who are launching and up there. We do a lot of public speaking engagements, trying to get younger kids inspired about STEM careers. It is certainly a long shot for anyone to be an astronaut but there are thousands of people working at NASA space centers. I would encourage everyone to follow their passion, whether you want to be an astronaut or a doctor or an English teacher.