Maine astronaut Chris Cassidy is headed back to space, where he'll find another Mainer
By GILLIAN GRAHAM | Portland Press Herald, Maine | Published: November 8, 2019
PORTLAND, Maine (Tribune News Service) — Astronaut Chris Cassidy already has spent 182 days in space and he’s ready for another stint – one that will include a rare rendezvous.
The York native is scheduled to spend six months aboard the International Space Station beginning in April. It will be his third trip to space.
“What’s really cool for me being a Mainer is I’ll overlap with Jessica Meir for nine days or so at the end of her mission,” Cassidy said Thursday during a phone interview from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
It will be the first time that two Mainers have been in space at the same time. Meir, who grew up in Caribou, arrived at the space station in September.
Cassidy’s crewmates are cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. It will be their first space mission.
The crew is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 9. They are expected to stay at the space station until October 2020.
When they arrive at the space station, the crew will join Meir, NASA flight engineer Drew Morgan and Expedition 62 Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos. When those three leave the space station nine days later, Cassidy will become commander of Expedition 63 – and the only American on board, just as he was for two weeks in 2013.
“I remember looking out the window (of the space station) and thinking ‘Holy cow I’m the only American up here,'” he said. “That will be the same this time.”
Cassidy, 49, was a standout athlete at York High School, graduating in 1988. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993 and serve four deployments as a SEAL in Afghanistan and the Mediterranean. He also earned a master’s degree in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000.
After he attended the Naval Academy, Cassidy met Bill Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL who was a member of the first crew aboard the International Space Station. It was then that Cassidy realized his training as a SEAL would serve him well as an astronaut.
Cassidy first traveled to space aboard the shuttle Endeavour in 2009. On that mission, he became the 500th person to fly in space. During the 16-day mission, he participated in three spacewalks to help install the Japanese Kibo laboratory’s exposed facility and replace solar array batteries on the Port 6 truss of the space station, NASA said.
In 2013, Cassidy spent 166 days aboard the International Space Station, which traveled 70 million miles orbiting Earth while Cassidy was aboard. His spacewalk on July 16, 2013, grabbed international headlines after his colleague’s helmet began to fill with water. The spacewalk was aborted and Cassidy was able to help Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano back into the International Space Station.
Cassidy has spent 31 hours and 14 minutes spacewalking, but his opportunities for more time outside the space station may be limited during his next mission.
It is possible that Cassidy, Tikhonov and Babkin will be the only three people aboard the space station for all or most of their stay, a situation that is unusual, Cassidy said.
Having only three astronauts on the space station will likely limit the opportunity for spacewalks, he said Thursday. While the crew is trained to do spacewalks with three people – two outside and one inside – that would only happen if an emergency repair is needed, he said.
They could have visitors from a commercial space flight by either SpaceX or Boeing, a possibility Cassidy is looking forward to.
“That’s really exciting for me to be on board the space station when the first Americans are launched from American soil since 2011,” he said.
To prepare for his mission, Cassidy and his crewmates will spend the next couple weeks in Houston, then head to Russia for training. After some time at home in Houston with his family for Christmas, Cassidy will travel to Japan and Germany for additional training. In February, he’ll go to Russia for the final six weeks of training before the launch.
Cassidy, who is still an active duty captain in the Navy, said he is looking forward to “just looking at Earth” from space and living aboard the space station.
“There’s a certain level of satisfaction that comes with really understanding the space station and feeling like you have the knowledge to operate this amazing piece of machinery,” he said.
And one other thing he’s looking forward to: Maine blueberry jam.
In 2013, NASA sent Maine blueberry jam from Stonewall Kitchen to the space station for Cassidy, and he’s made the same request again.
“Blueberry jam is coming with me this time,” he said. “I’ll eat it at home or in space or on top of a mountain.”
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