Jerry Linenger: 'One of the frustrating things for an astronaut is trying to give a good description of how awesome the earth really is'
- Henry Northmore
- 21 March 2018
National Geographic's new documentary series One Strange Rock gives an astronaut's perspective on Planet Earth
National Geographic are launching a major new documentary series One Strange Rock. Over ten episodes, the new show will explore the world, life on earth and our place in the cosmos from an unusual perspective, based around interviews with astronauts who have had the unique privilege of observing the planet from outer space. Narrated by Will Smith and produced by Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa Pictures, One Strange Rock is visually stunning but it's the astronauts first hand accounts that are truly fascinating.
Contributors include Chris Hadfield (famed for his rendition of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'), Mae Jemison (the first African-American woman in space), Peggy Whitson (the first woman to command the International Space Station twice) and Jerry Linenger, who spent five months aboard the Mir space station in 1997.
We caught up with Linenger to find out more about his amazing experiences and this captivating new series.
What was your background before being an astronaut?
I'm a US Naval officer, I'm also a physician and I'm a PHD level epidemiologist. So I was doing medical research, I've done aviation and then a couple of PhDs and Masters degrees thrown in there.
And how did you get involved with the NASA space programme?
It was a boyhood dream: 14-years-old looking up at the moon and saying 'I want to do that some day'. Eventually the resume gets to the point where you have a shot at becoming an astronaut. It takes that resume and a lot of luck. I think the last astronaut group had 35,000 applicants for about 10 spots, so it's against all odds. Up in space looking down at the earth I thought, 'This is incredible, I'm floating above the planet. How privileged I am to exist in this point in time and have this incredible opportunity to represent mankind?'
Was there any trepidation? Obviously things can and do go wrong.
I think every astronaut goes though that calculation in their mind and the ultimate question is: 'is this worth my life?' I think every astronaut I've ever known, including my friends on Columbia, make that decision before walking out to the launch pad – 'We are moving mankind forward this is worth my life.' And when you walk out to the rocket, you have total confidence in that decision. I didn't feel any trepidation whatsoever, I didn't feel any fear. I think my heart rate was at probably 60 beats per minute, feeling pretty good, ready to take seven million pounds of thrust to launch me at 17,500 miles per hour. Any anxiety or fear has already been resolved and you are ready to go.
What is it like getting that first glimpse of earth?
It's funny you are so busy during launch, concentrating on switches and monitoring everything, making sure that the spacecraft gets to space, that you are kind of a robot during those seven or eight minutes. Then the engines cut off and you have time to let your emotions catch up and it's a rush. On the Mir space station, I took 90 minutes, which is one orbit of the earth, to block everything out, levitate over to a window and watch the sun rise, the sun set and watch the stars come out and have this moment of awe looking at our place in the universe.