From the time I was born until I went to college at the US Air Force Academy, the Baltimore Orioles did not have a losing season. That seems almost unfathomable today. From the dominant teams that were at the top of baseball in the late 1960s and early 1970s. To the World Series teams of 1979 and 1983, they just never lost, with the old “Oriole Way.”
And after more than a decade of pain in the 2000s, it has been really fun to be an Orioles fan for the past five years. The core group of Adam Jones and Matt Wieters and Zach Britton and Manny and JJ and Chris Davis and so many others have been really fun to watch. Every September there has been interesting baseball, and occasionally in October. The Buck and Dan era has been good for the Birdland Soul.
However, speaking for myself, what I really want is a World Series championship. Or better yet, a string of competing for one year in and year out. What we’ve had recently has been fun. But to be honest, hoping for a winning season, or trying for that last wildcard spot, is not why you compete.
It’s time for some really tough decisions to be made in order to make the Orioles into a world championship team. If those decisions are not made and then aggressively pursued, we will fail. If the Orioles stay on their current track, they will never reach the World Series- they aren’t 3 or 5 years out, they will simply never get there. Tinkering with free agent and rule 5 pieces here and there means that at the end of September we will be hoping for a .500 record or counting the days until spring training starts. Forever.
I moved to Houston 17 years ago and they have become my adopted, second team. I used to root for an Orioles- Astros World series, now I root for an O’s – Stros ALCS. I was at the ALCS game 7 in Houston when they beat the Yankees, and I was at Dodger stadium for game 2 to see one of the wildest WS games in history. This Astros team is GOOD and fun to watch!
About 6 years ago I had lunch with former Astros President George Poustolos, who was proposing something crazy. As I listened to his pitch about the limitations of being a mid-sized market team and how the Cardinals were consistent contenders and how the 2004-2005 playoff Astros had been built by getting older players at the expense of the farm team, he painted a pretty bleak picture, unless drastic action was taken. He wanted to completely dismantle the big-league club. He warned that it would be ugly. He had a timeline. He was asking for patience. And by looking at the cold hard facts, there was no escaping it. The Astros could muddle in mediocrity, forever. Or they could make the tough decision and go for it.
And wow was he right. They went through three consecutive years of 100+ loss seasons. They lost so many games in the latter innings because they just didn’t have major league quality pitchers to finish games. The stadium was empty for years. Their payroll was literally just barely above the minimum possible- there was a time when nearly every member of their 25-man roster was making league minimum.
And things started to happen in the background that only die-hard Astros fans noticed. They started having draft picks and improving on a farm system that had actually been rated last in MLB. Players like Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers and Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman and Dallas Keuchel started to show up. They placed their faith in data and not opinion- I love their front office sign that reads “In God we trust- all others must bring the data.”
And then in 2015, out of the blue, the Astros shocked the baseball world and made it to the playoffs. And were a few outs away from beating the eventual-champ Royals and going to the ALCS. Less than 4 years after the experiment had begun. An experiment in which the Astros went all-in, and were willing to pay the price.
Today they have one of the best teams in baseball. Their position players 1-8 are the best in MLB, and this year they often played teams that didn’t even have one player who would be a starter on the Astros. Their pitching is so ridiculously deep that they have a starter who went 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA who was left out of the playoff rotation and relegated to the bullpen.
So, Orioles fans, it’s time to be honest. We are not on a path to the World Series, and won’t ever be, without a very painful rebuilding that will last at least 3, maybe 5 years. The mantra that “you don’t rebuild in the AL East” is just false. Other clubs in the AL east are hoping that we continue on exactly the course that we are on- it will guarantee that they don’t have to face an Orioles’ team as good as the Astros in the future.
The path down this road is long and hard and doesn’t have a guaranteed outcome, other than a few very bleak years. Those years can be mitigated by picking up a few reasonable major – league caliber players, but there will be LOTS of pain. Fans will have to watch the Frederick and Bowie and Ironbird box scores as much as the the big-league club.
Buy low, sell high. It’s the one thing I learned when I went to business school. Everyone will have to be on the table. By that I mean everyone. The front office will have to decide on a timetable- will we compete in 5 years? If so, let’s build the cadre of players that will be under team control and young and uber-talented, 5 years from now. And that means putting all of our favorite players on the market. Getting tons of draft picks and minor league prospects. Deciding if selling high means November or December or July.
Like I said, there is no guaranteed outcome, but I’ve had a front-row to the rise and fall of several teams, and I can say a few things emphatically. 1) I really really want to see the Orioles contend for the championship, and soon. 2) That will not happen ever, using our current strategy. 3) It worked for my “other” team, the Astros.
I’ve been counting backwards from 11, the number of games the Astros still need to win, this year. So far I’m at 8 down, 3 to go. And I hope I’ll be making that same count for the birds in the not-too-distant future.
Terry Virts is a Baltimore native, an Orioles fan through thick and thin, a former astronaut, speaker, and author, and Monday morning (baseball executive) quarterback.
I am in the middle of a book tour, something I never thought I would do. And I’m sure my high school English teachers would agree. But after I decided to leave NASA and start a new “career,” writing a book was at the top of my to-do list. I didn’t want to write an astronaut memoir- that story has been told a hundred times. And I didn’t want to make a reference book, with a photographic atlas of Earth’s geography. I wanted to create something unique- taking the experience of spaceflight, of what it feels like, of how it impacted me as a person, of the beautiful views, and capturing that in book format. First of all through photos- photography is what I really love most. But also through words. And I did not want to use a ghost writer, or “Terry Virts with….” I wanted to write View From Above all by myself. With some help from my editors, I was able to do just that. To make what I hope is a beautiful National Geographic photography book, but also a book of compelling stories that take the reader to space, riding the rocket, experiencing emergencies, seeing our beautiful planet and the cosmos, being outside on a spacewalk, and just reflecting on the impact that leaving Earth has.
The process of writing this first (but I hope not last) book has made me think back on what authors influenced me. I’m not a great reader, in fact I’m pretty dang slow. But I do enjoy it. Over the years I have loved reading Tom Clancy and other similar novels, political books about presidents and Henry Kissinger and foreign affairs, historical fiction, sports books and autobiographies, books about my Christian faith, science and astronomy and physics books, economics and finance books (macro is my favorite…). Well, you get the point, I’ve read a lot of books on a lot of subjects, I definitely have varied interests.
But one genre stands out, and it shaped me in my childhood and provided me with a lot of the motivation I needed to go on to do some of the things I’ve done, like flying jets and being an astronaut. That genre is Science Fiction. I went through a phase as a teenager, especially during the summer when it was either read a good book or watch the early days of MTV and ESPN and movie reruns on HBO, where I read a lot of science fiction.
Arthur C. Clarke stands out as science fiction author who influenced me the most. 2001: A Space Odyssey is of course his most famous work, and it was one of the rare novels that was also turned into a great movie (one that I watched while I was in space- talk about surreal). He correctly predicted a lot of the technology we use on the ISS, there’s even commercial spaceflights going to the station today. There was however one notable exception, artificial gravity. NASA has chosen to use an exercise machine to help astronauts combat the effects of weightlessness instead of providing us with artificial gravity, and that was probably a smart idea. After 200 days in space, I had lost 0.0% of my bone density, so exercise is a lot more cost-effective than making a giant rotating space station. I also loved the sequel, 2010. I remember seeing that movie as a teenager during the height of the Cold War, where US and Soviet astronauts were working together in space during a conflict on Earth. How poignant for me when, 30 years later, I was commander of a joint American – Russian – European crew, in the middle of Crimea and Ukraine and Sanctions and some of the worst ever West / Russia relations. And we got along very well in space, setting an example for the world to see how people can work together for a common purpose, setting aside political differences of our respective governments. That was my proudest accomplishment as the ISS commander.
Mr. Clarke’s works had a very special place in my heart, as they really reflected my actual career in more ways than I could ever imagine. But his best work, in my opinion, was a book called Rendezvous with Rama, about an alien spacecraft that comes zooming through our solar system. We don’t know where it was from or who lives in it, and I can still vividly remember his tale of astronauts climbing inside that spaceship to see who or what was in there, 35 years after I first read that book. What a great piece of fiction!
Isaac Asimov was another writer who really impacted me. One of the many amazing things about Isaac is the fact that he was born Russian and immigrated to the US. Wow! I’ve had to go through the process of learning the Russian language, and it is impressive beyond belief that he was able to write (prolifically) in English, as a non-native speaker. Beyond that, he really based his work on science (as did Mr. Clarke). I devoured his Foundation and Empire books one summer, with his idea of “Psychohistory,” or the ability to mathematically model and predict the behavior of large populations. A sort of scientific “predestination” doctrine. It was fascinating to me, and refreshing to see him put the “Science” in Science Fiction.
Riverworld was a series of books by Philip Jose Farmer, that was a little more on the fiction side of the science fiction scale, but nonetheless I loved. In this strange world, humans are randomly reconstructed in a different location and time after they die- something the main characters don’t know at first, but once they find out, they use this ability to travel down a tremendous river. One that goes back in time the further you go down the river. So as the characters die, they are reincarnated at a different spot on the river, which corresponds to a different century in history. One scene still stands out to me- the hero died and was immediately reincarnated in prehistoric times, where he was promptly eaten by a T. Rex and sent off to another era. The shortest episode of reconstruction in the book!
This has been a blast to remember the books I read as a kid, and to think of the impact they had on me. Although I was a math major in college, and always thought that technical subjects were the most important, the older I get the more I realize that things like imagination and creativity and communication are really the most important skills we can have. For without them, technical achievements won’t deeply impact people.
Col. Terry Virts spent over 200 days in space and collected his experience in a new book from National Geographic
Roe Conn with Terry Virts
Colonel Terry Virts has piloted STS-130 aboard the space shuttle Endeavor, commanded the International Space Station, and spent over 200 days in space. Col. Virts joins Roe Conn and Anna Davlantes to talk about his collection of photos from his time in space being published by National Geographic, “VIEW FROM ABOVE: An Astronaut Photographs the World”.
In many ways, Terry Virts is just your average native Marylander. He loves the Orioles and fondly recalls growing up in Columbia during the 1970s and ’80s. How is he not like the average Marylander? Well, as a retired astronaut and one-time commander of the International Space Station, he has spent 213 days in space, which he documented extensively in thousands upon thousands of hi-def videos and still photos. Since retiring from NASA in August 2016, he has spent his time organizing his images and career recollections into a book, the newly released View From Above: An Astronaut Photographs the World. While in town on his book tour last week, he stopped by Baltimore’s offices (where he geeked out about our Orioles-themed décor) and answered our questions about growing up in Columbia, working with the Russians, and thinking he might die in space.
*This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The book just came out last week and is the result of your 16-year career with NASA, including your stint on the International Space Station, during which you took the most photos anyone has ever taken from space. That’s what they told me, yeah. When I landed, they were like, ‘Ugh. Finally, you’re back on Earth.’ Because they told me I took 319,000-plus pictures.
Were they ever like, ‘Maybe hold off taking pictures for a day or two?’ Oh, totally. And it wasn’t just fun pictures. Like sometimes, if you’re doing an experiment, they want three different views. If you’re filming experiments, that payload stuff would kill all the downlink so there’s no time to get your fun stuff down. We had RED, this Hollywood-quality camera. Jim Cameron told me he used it to film Avatar. The RED camera was the worst. My last week I was like, ‘You know what, I took enough stills.’ So I got the RED out, and they had always warned us to be real judicious with it because it uses so many gigabytes. But I just filmed away, and they were like, ‘Oh my God!’ But you know what, a week later they had it all down, and they made the most popular UHD highlight reel. It was a couple years ago when UHD was new. It’s amazing. And they’ll have that forever. Yeah, it was like, ‘Sorry. You’ve got to download it.’
So tell us something about space that the average person doesn’t know.So it’s nothing like Star Wars. The Wookiees are not that loud in real space. The Storm Troopers are actually nice guys. [Laughs]
Well, tell us about floating. In space, you move with your hands and you carry things with your feet.
Why? Because you have to grab onto handrails to push yourself around. The way we’re designed: Hands are fine motion and feet are [mimes pounding his feet]. You can do that [mimes jumping], but you’re going to shoot up to the ceiling.
What are the annoying parts about being in space? Well, floating is super annoying. Like, anybody can move over there and get to the door, but to end up at the door [facing it with your hand near the handle], you have to push and rotate at the correct number of degrees per second and your brain has to figure out that it’s going to take five seconds to get there and I need to rotate 10 degrees.
How long does that learning curve take? The first couple of days, it is pretty steep. After a week, I was still not there. After two weeks, I was good but I wasn’t [at my peak]. It probably took me a month before I was good, and I got really good.
What about sleeping in space? Yeah, you get sunrise and sunset every hour and a half, unless you’re in high beta [orbit]. I went through a week with no sunsets.
It’s like living in Scandinavia in the summer or something? Right or Antarctica in the winter. It’s just constant sunlight. So you close the windows and you don’t know what the sun is doing and you set your alarm to GMT [Greenwich Mean Time].
Why GMT? Because it’s the International Space Station and the bus and the subway system [in Russia] does not run in the middle of the night. So we had to pick a time that was close to their normal work hours for their mission control people. Going GMT is close, it’s a couple hours difference. We didn’t just cave and use Moscow time. So it kind of saves face for us. [We can say] ‘Okay, GMT, that’s official.’ But the real reason is the Moscow subway schedule—so I’ve been told. I was still in the Air Force when the [ISS was launched].
Speaking of the Russians, you were up on the ISS with how many others?Five others. There were three Russians, two Americans, and an Italian.
This was in 2015, which, even then, was a tense time in U.S.-Russian relations. How did that affect your working relationships? It was great. It was the highlight of my mission having my Russian crewmates there. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them. We all knew that these things were happening on Earth and we would just consciously, actively say, ‘We’re going to ignore the politics and focus on staying alive.’ Because on the other side of the window is vacuum and death. In a universe of a lot of bad stuff happening, the space station was a good example of how people can work together.
Can you give an example of something political that threatened to divide you? Well, [the U.S.] put sanctions on Russia. And when that happened, the ruble got devalued in half. So my cosmonaut friends were calling home asking their wives, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ And I’m the guy that did it, and I’m commander, so that could have been very divisive. So I made a very active decision to spend time with them, have dinner with them, to talk. And actually, the cosmonauts are paid in dollars—that’s just the way their contract is—so in the long run, their salaries doubled.
And then [the U.S.] had an orbital rocket that blew up here in Virginia, a Russian Progress rocket blew up, and a Space X rocket blew up. Three rockets in eight months. When the Progress blew up, it was the Soyuz [Russian spacecraft] rocket after [the one that delivered me to the ISS], so they wanted to do an investigation before they launched the next crew to replace us. So we didn’t know how long we were going to be stuck in space. And we were very flexible. Every day I would say, ‘Okay, guys, tell us your rumors,’ because I didn’t want rumors. I was like, ‘Let’s get ’em out. What is everybody hearing?’ And the Russians had the best because it was their rocket. I would talk to the station program manager [at NASA] and he was great. He was just like, ‘Here’s what we know. The reality is, it’s their rocket and they’re going to decide.’ I was like, ‘Okay, I can deal with that.’ There have been other examples when crews got delayed—or they didn’t even get delayed; they had threats of delays—and they were like, ‘Arggghh!’ But we were very positive. And our international partners get paid by the day. When they get extended, they get paid even more. The folks were not that upset about having to stay longer.
You were born in Baltimore, grew up in Columbia, graduated from Oakland Mills High School. What are your memories of growing up in Columbia? I lived in Lanham and Gambrills first. I didn’t move to Columbia until fourth grade. My fourth grade teacher just found me on Facebook. He remembered stuff. He was like, ‘There was this trip to D.C. and you bought a prism, and you spent 15 minutes explaining how a prism works.’ I remember that but it’s crazy that he remembers that.
So obviously you had an aptitude for science. Yeah, math and science were my strong suits.
What was your experience going through Columbia’s public schools? It was amazing. The public school system then, that I went through, was rated one of the, I think, top 10 in the country. First of all, it was a multi-racial place. It was kind of weird because I didn’t really think about when I was growing up because I had friends of all [backgrounds]—a Korean guy, an Indian guy. We had everything, and it just wasn’t a big deal. And academically, it was amazing. I got to take Calc 3 in high school and had French every year, seventh through twelfth grade. I became a French minor. I became an astronaut because of my French experience. Madame Micka, I talk about her in my book. She was my French teacher in high school.
What do you mean you became an astronaut because of your French experience? There are 100 test pilots who are great, but I was the guy who had done an exchange at the French air force academy, and I had international foreign language [experience]. For something like being an astronaut that’s so competitive, you want to have something that makes you stand out, and that made me stand out. No one ever tells you why they picked you, but I just know in my heart that it wasn’t only math and science, it was also the language side of things that got me in.
You really did want to be a pilot from a young age.There’s a cute picture of you in the book standing on the wing of a plane. Where do you think this love of flying came from? The first book I ever read was about Apollo. It was one of those picture books for kids and I was in Lanham, and I can remember it. It just stuck. My mom was a secretary at Goddard [Flight Center in Greenbelt] and my dad and my stepdad both worked at Goddard. But they weren’t pilots. It was satellites, not human space flight.
But you were around the culture. Yeah, they would bring home pictures. I remember when Viking landed on Mars I got pictures from Mars. They would get, probably, posters from books they could bring home. They would just bring stuff like that home and my room was just covered with airplanes and stuff. And every summer I’d get Astronomy magazine and, the day it showed up, I would sit there and read the whole thing.
Do you think a human is going to go to Mars? I’m sure, eventually. I hope sooner rather than later, and I hope America leads it. If we don’t, other countries will. The thing about humanity is that nothing is static. Just ask the Portuguese, ask the Brits, or ask the Chinese. They decided to build a wall, and for 1,000 years they just wallowed in themselves and they didn’t grow. The whole world did this [mimes expanding] and China was behind the wall. So America had the 20th century, right? That was our century. But that doesn’t mean the 21st century is going to be our century unless we decide to make it so.
What is the most dangerous situation you’ve ever encountered in spaceflight? There’s a whole chapter in the book about it called “Emergencies in Space.” There was an ammonia leak. We’re sitting there, minding our own business, and the alarm goes off, and we pop our heads out. Samantha, my Italian crewmate, we’re looking at the panel. I see ‘ATM.’ There are three kinds of emergencies: There’s fire. There’s an air leak. And there’s toxic atmosphere, which is ammonia inside the atmosphere. Ammonia is the coolant. So cars have radiator fluid, the station uses ammonia. That’s how it stays cool—on the American side. The Russian side uses sugar water. It’s not as efficient. It’s not as good a coolant, like ammonia, but it’s sugar water. Ammonia kills you dead.
So I go, ‘ATM?’ It was such a big deal that I just couldn’t process it. So we put on oxygen masks, run down to the Russian segment, and close the hatch because the Russian segment is safe. And then you’re supposed to take all of your clothes off because if there’s ammonia in your clothes, its poisonous, and then you go through another hatch. But we didn’t take our clothes off. No one smelled anything. We were like, ‘We’re probably fine.’ And the ground was kind of mad at us about that. Thirty minutes [later], the ground goes, ‘Hey, just kidding, it was a false alarm.’ So we’re just like, ‘Ugh.’ It just kills the day’s schedule. So we get back and we’re putting things away because we had just dropped everything and the CAPCOM [the Capsule Communicator] calls up and says, ‘Execute ammonia response now. This is a real thing. This isn’t a drill.’ It was this super intense voice. We were like, ‘Crap!’ We put the masks on, we go down, we close the hatch, we don’t take our clothes off. We do the whole thing. We get a sampler out. Okay, the air is good. Twenty or thirty minutes later we take our masks off and we’re like, ‘huh.’
What I knew had happened was the computer [activated] the alarm automatically. I knew there would be a crowd of engineers looking at every little bit of data. What I assumed had happened was, after the first alarm, they went, ‘Nah, that’s not really a leak. Tell them it’s not.’ And then they [continued] to watch the data and it [looked] like it was still leaking and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s a leak. It’s a small one, but it’s a real leak.’ And then they called us back. Since I’ve worked in mission control for years, I knew what was going on; they didn’t tell us this. And then we sat around for hours on the Russian side and the Russian deputy prime minister called up in the middle of sanctions and all these bad things and says, ‘Hey Americans, you can stay as long as you want. We’re going to work together.’ This was the same guy that had said we could take a trampoline to the space station after the U.S. had put sanctions on Russia. The same guy who was having a Twitter battle with, I guess, Obama at the time called up and said, ‘Hey we’re going to work together and get through this.’ So it was a great, great, great example international cooperation in space when things were really bad down here.
So we spent the day like, ‘So, there’s a small leak on the station.’ What’s going to happen if it continues to leak is the station pops. It just gets over-pressurized and the metal explodes—unless they vent it. They could vent it and then there’s no air and ammonia stuck to the walls. So we’re like, the station’s dead, and we’re going to stay on the Russian segment for a few weeks—with the one pair of underwear because all my clothes are over there—and then go back to Earth and the station will go into the Pacific. And then I went and took a nap. I was like, ‘I don’t have anything else to do. I’m going to take a nap.’ And then they called up and said, ‘Just kidding, it was a false alarm.’ [Laughs]
But then when we went back to the American segment they said, ‘But just keep your masks on just in case.’ So my crewmate and I, we put our masks on and we had these samplers and we were floating around and it was like this surreal alien movie. There were things floating around—we just abandoned stuff and left—so it was like being the first person on this ghost ship in space. And then everything was fine. That’s a story that no one knows and it’s an amazing story.
So, essentially, you got told it was a false alarm twice? Yes. And there have always been false fire alarms, and there have been a few false air leak alarms, but there’s never been a false ammonia alarm.
Ever? That’s the one and only ammonia alarm. The ammonia alarm is a big deal. That’s the one you don’t want to get. They sent a text to my family at four in the morning. The text is in the book. My wife got it and she gave it to me for the book. In general, space flight sucks for families. It’s just hard. Everyone’s always like, ‘Oh you’re so lucky your dad’s an astronaut!’ My kids are like, [rolls eyes]. We were watching the NBA five or six years ago and my daughter, she was probably like 10 at the time, and we were watching the Heat and they were in the finals and she just looks at me and says, ‘Dad, why can’t you be more like LeBron James?’
As commander of the International Space Station, Terry Virts spent more than 200 days floating above and below Earth. And during that time, he took more than 300,000 photos. He joins us to talk about looking at the world from this unique vantage – and about everyday life in orbit. His new book is called “View From Above: An Astronaut Photographs the World” (National Geographic).
NASA astronauts are trying to help the rapper B.o.B., who has taken heat lately for claiming that the Earth is flat instead of round.
Several NASA astronauts responded after the rapper, whose Twitter icon is a flat Earth, opened a GoFundMe page to raise money to “purchase and launch one, if not multiple, satellites into space” to “find the curve” of the Earth.
“I can save BoB a lot of money,” astronaut Terry Virts tweeted. “The Earth is round. I flew around it.”
Virts has a couple of decades with NASA under his belt, including as a boarder on the International Space Station and as a pilot for the decommissioned space shuttle Endeavor. He has spent more than 200 days in space and almost 20 total hours on spacewalks — when an astronaut leaves the ISS to perform work on its exterior.
Even the second man on the moon got in on the action. Buzz Aldrin, who was part of the Apollo 11 team and stepped onto the lunar surface after Neil Armstrong, quoted Virts’ tweet about the flat Earth fundraising campaign and how he flew around the Earth.
“I did too,” Aldrin wrote. “It’s called an orbit: the curved path of a celestial object around a star, planet, or moon.”
I did too. It’s called an orbit: the curved path of a celestial object around a star, planet, or moon. https://t.co/h8GQJadfxD
B.o.B.’s GoFundMe campaign has a goal of $1 million dollars to launch the satellites and document everything. Five days into the campaign he had raised less than $3,000.
It was launched a day after another tweet seemingly suggested crowdfunding a satellite to search for the edge of the Earth and B.o.B. replied, “Actually that’s a great idea.”
The Flat Earth Society has supported his efforts.
The responses from the astronauts are not the only time a space expert has called out the rapper for supporting flat Earth theory — astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has also gotten involved.
In January 2016, B.o.B. had tweeted a photo of himself where he was standing on a hill at sunset and captioned the photo, “The cities in the background are approx. 16 miles apart … where is the curve? Please explain this.”
Tyson replied to the comment and got into a discussion about it on Twitter.
“Flat Earth is a problem only when people in charge think that way,” he said. “No law stops you from regressively basking in it.”
He also referred to the rapper as being five centuries behind everyone else in his thinking — referencing the fact that although the ancient Greeks believed the Earth was round, their knowledge was lost for many years and it wasn’t until after the Dark Ages that people re-discovered this fact.
B.o.B.’s flat Earth claim — and a connected skepticism about whether astronauts are actually in space — is not the only conspiracy theory he seemingly supports; he has also tweeted against childhood vaccinations.
Ensign T. Virts likely won’t be crossing paths with the USS Discovery.
Last (and only) seen serving as an engineer aboard the NX-01 Enterprise in the year 2161, Ensign Virts — though of unknown age — would almost certainly be older than 100 years by the time the events of “Star Trek: Discovery” begin.
Former NASA astronaut Terry Virts, on the other hand, said he will be watching the new Trek show — which debuted on Sept. 24 — with interest.
“I was recently on a trip in Mexico with Rod Roddenberry, [“Star Trek” creator] Gene [Roddenberry]’s son, and he told me a little about it. I’ll absolutely watch,” said Virts, who acted as an ensign on “Star Trek: Enterprise,” making him one of only three real-life space travelers to make a cameo appearance as a member of Starfleet. “That franchise has captured our hearts and minds, and there is a whole slew of people around the world who will always want to follow their adventures.”
“Star Trek: Discovery” is set between the events of “Enterprise” and those of the 1966 original series. Further, “Discovery” episodes will be available on the network’s premium, subscription streaming service, CBS All Access.
Virts, whose first book, “View from Above: An Astronaut Photographs the World” will be published by National Geographic on Tuesday (Oct. 3), said science fiction like “Star Trek” helped him decide to become an astronaut.
“Science fiction inspired me as a kid,” Virts told Space.com in an interview. “The ‘Star Trek’ movies, and most of all, the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, really captivated me when I was a teenager. So, while I am, of course, a big fan of pursuing ‘real-world’ space exploration, it’s the science fiction stories that really inspire us and make us dream about what the future might hold.
“If you look at ‘Star Trek,’ many of their technologies have come to pass — except warp speed and the teleporter,” he added.
Virts appeared alongside fellow NASA astronaut Mike Fincke in “These Are the Voyages…,” the final episode of “Enterprise,” in May 2005. Fincke, who is still with the space agency (Virts retired in August 2016), portrayed Lt. M. Fincke. Together with Ensign Virts, Lt. Fincke was seen in the engineering section of the spaceship, working on freeing deuterium filters.
“There’s always been a link between science fiction and science fact,” Fincke said in a NASA interview at the time. “Science fiction, in general, has inspired not just astronauts but all humans by giving form to our dreams to explore.”
Both Fincke and Virts are veterans of expeditions on board the International Space Station. Some experiences aboard the station seemed downright sci-fi, Virts said.
“There was one night in May 2015 when [my crew and I] were flying over the southern part of the Earth, and the aurora was very strong,” recalled Virts. “The southern lights were always spectacular because they were so big and prominent, but on this particular evening, we actually flew right through them.
“It was surreal to be floating in my spaceship, looking out the window and seeing this alien cloud of green, slowly dancing and wavering, surround us, above and to the right and left and below. I had the thought that this can’t be real. It was like something out of ‘Star Trek,'” he said.
Virts’ and Fincke’s appearance on “Enterprise” followed another astronaut joining the crew of the Enterprise — NCC-170D — on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Twenty-five years ago, Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to fly in space, and today, she leads the 100 Year Starship project. Jemison appeared as Lt. Junior Grade Palmer, a transporter operator, in the 1993 episode “Second Chances.”
In August, Jemison attended the official “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas, where she was joined on the stage by actress Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Uhura on the original series. Nichols was among the first African-American women to appear on television in a nonstereotypical role.
“You gave me and others permission to be in the room,” said Jemison, addressing Nichols.
The lead on “Star Trek: Discovery” is African-American actress Sonequa Martin-Green, who portrays Michael Burnham, the first officer of the USS Shenzhou and USS Discovery.
It is yet to be seen if any real-life astronauts will make cameo appearances on “Discovery,” though if Burnham (Martin-Green) or any of the other characters happen to look into Ensign Virts’ history, there are a few things the NASA veteran would like them to find, he said.
“I would hope that they saw that I was a good officer and crewmate — maybe took part in some daring missions, hopefully saving a planet or rescuing a lost spaceship from invading aliens,” Virts said.
Robert Pearlman is a Space.com contributing writer and the editor of collectSPACE.com, a Space.com partner site and the leading space-history news publication. Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.