Did you know that blasting off in a rocket ship at Cape Canaveral, Fla., feels quite normal?
Well, it does for the first five minutes, according to Lodi-area astronaut Jose Hernandez, who returned to Earth on Friday night after two weeks in space.
After five minutes in the air, it gets a little uncomfortable.
"It felt like someone was pressing my chest," Hernandez said in a phone interview with the News-Sentinel on Sunday from his home in Houston. "It was getting harder and harder to inhale and exhale, like someone sitting on your chest."
That's due to the change in the gravitational pull, also known as Gs.
Hernandez explained that 1G is normal gravity on Earth, 2G is twice your weight, 3G is three times your weight and 4G is four times your weight. Gravity went as high as 4G after the five-minute mark. After eight-and-a-half minutes, it plummeted to zero, or weightlessness.
"You were glad the main engine went off," Hernandez said. "Everything was very nice after that."
Hernandez, 47, who landed safely with six other astronauts Friday night at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, spent the weekend relaxing with his parents and a brother at his home in Houston. He's getting reaccustomed to the Earth's gravity, which caused him to have poor balance for four to five hours after landing.
He had gotten used to "zero G," or no gravity, while in space. Now he has to readjust to 1G gravity, which we take for granted on Earth.
In fact, Hernandez won't be allowed to drive until he takes a medical examination at 10 a.m. CDT today.
Hernandez discussed several other highlights to his 5.7-million-mile flight in space on Sunday. They include:
- Seeing large cities like New York, London and Paris at night.
- Appreciating how delicate the Earth really is.
- The excitement of seeing thunderstorms from space.
- How smoothly the flight went.
- What he'll be doing now that he's safely on the ground.
Hernandez said his 14 days in space gave him new appreciation of how beautiful Earth is. If politicians and other world leaders could see the planet from outer space like he did, they would find that war, pollution and climate change would not be issues today because they would see how important it is to preserve Mother Earth, he said.
Hernandez said he saw pollution first-hand by looking at the Amazon River in South America.
"You see the mouth of the Amazon," he said. "You can see pretty much the sediment, the erosion and runoff. You see a cloud of brown at the mouth of the river before you see (the) blue (Atlantic Ocean)."
The astronauts saw mostly the Southern Hemisphere during the day and the Northern Hemisphere at night.
"It was pretty amazing how clear you can see the city lights," Hernandez said.
Another important part of the mission, he said, was how smoothly the flight went.
"Everything worked out great; we're pretty happy," he said. "There were no surprises. Even when we had a few problems, we were well enough trained to take care of anything."
Hernandez and the other six astronauts will spend the next month in a series of debriefing meetings with mechanics, scientists and anyone who had anything to do with the Space Shuttle operation. And of course, it will be full of good news.
Hernandez, who serves on the University of the Pacific's board of regents, said he hopes to return to San Joaquin County in mid-October for the next board meeting. He hopes to spend another three weeks in the Lodi-Stockton area during the holidays.
"We are very impressed," said Hernandez's brother-in-law, Gabriel Corona. "I can't wait to see him in person because I'll have a lot of questions."