Former Army astronaut takes on new mission
Story and photos by Kathy Eastwood
Retired Col. Timothy Creamer visited West Point staff and faculty Nov. 8 at Thayer Hall to talk about the importance of science and later spoke with cadets on the subject. Creamer was an assistant professor in physics at the U.S. Military Academy from 1992-95, enjoyed a career as an Army astronaut, and has been on a mission to promote interest in science and technology.
“The main purpose of his talk is to increase interest among cadets in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM topics,” Maj. Adrienne Prem, Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering instructor, said.
The title for the evening lecture for cadets was “Where we come from, where we are and where we are going,” and he spoke about current and future operations at NASA and his own experiences as an astronaut.
Science is the reason for the existence of the International Space Station, where Creamer spent a total of 163 days in 2009-10. The former Army astronaut is currently the Payload Operations director for NASA in Huntsville, Ala., and is responsible for coordinating real-time operations of all ISS-based science events. He is also a congressional liaison for NASA to promote science literacy.
“I can’t tell you how many representatives in Congress asked me how many times the space shuttle went to the moon,” Creamer said. “I said, let’s talk about physics. It’s hard going to the moon because of speed. You need to travel 20,000 miles per hour to get to the moon.”
The ISS is considered a low earth orbit and is 250 miles up, which makes it easier to get to as opposed to the moon.
“The shuttle can reach the ISS with no problem, but if it was a little further, it couldn’t; a little closer and we would be suffering with atmospheric drag and eventual de-orbit,” Creamer said. “In the grand scheme of the population of those who have flown the earth, we don’t get very far away.”
However, that may change. Creamer spoke about the future of NASA in the space program and developing plans to send astronauts to Mars.
“Going to Mars does present a lot of problems,” Creamer said. “NASA is building a rocket, the SLS or Space Launch System, to go to Mars using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propulsion systems.”
The SLS is also slated for exploring the possibility of landing on asteroids. Creamer said a Mars mission must consider long-term space flights, which can also cause problems.
“Space causes muscle atrophy and balance issues due to inner ear problems,” Creamer said. “You actually can train yourself to avoid ear problems and daily exercise on board the ISS has aided in the reduction of muscle atrophy.”
Space travel to Mars will take at least eight months, just to get there and the overall trip will be nearly three years. Astronauts have a certain window of the energy available to transfer between the orbits of Mars and Earth between the low points, which occur every 26 months. Creamer launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-17 crew capsule on Dec. 21, 2009, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking with the ISS. Two days later, he joined the Expedition 22 crew and, for the next 161 days, Creamer lived and worked aboard the ISS as a flight engineer and NASA science officer on Expedition 22/23.
Creamer is a frequent visitor to West Point. He spoke to cadets in March 2011 about his time aboard the International Space Station.