Worst Day Ever: How One NASA Astronaut Handled His Fear of Heights on the ISS Space Walk

Thursday, 03 May 2018 - 1:10PM
Space
NASA
Thursday, 03 May 2018 - 1:10PM
Worst Day Ever: How One NASA Astronaut Handled His Fear of Heights on the ISS Space Walk
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Composite from Pixabay
In 2012 when Felix Baumgartner inched to the edge of a tiny balloon platform floating 128,100 feet above the Earth and peered over the edge, millions of people experienced a minor heart attack as they imagined falling 24 miles with only a parachute and a prayer. So imagine the kind of mental fortitude it took NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba to open the airlock and perform a spacewalk outside the ISS while grappling with his fear of heights.

"If you look at the pictures, I'm holding on to the railing," Acaba admitted during his first public appearance since he returned from space. "It does take a little bit of work while you're doing a spacewalk to realize, okay, it's okay. You are not going to fall."

But Acaba had more to talk about than overcoming his fear of ending up like Dr. Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey. According to him, commercial spaceflights will become a major feature of space travel very soon: "In the next year or so, we're going to have commercial flights flying NASA astronauts, and that's the first big step. And, it's never going to become routine. Going to space is difficult, but I think here in the near future, we are going to have more opportunities for people to fly in space."

It's a little disheartening to hear that we're never going to casually catch a rocket to the Moon the same way we catch a plane to Los Angeles or Tokyo but, hopefully, SpaceX and other companies will be able to make civilian trips to the stars less of a moonshot (pardon the pun).

Speaking of "moonshots," it sounds like that term is going to become obsolete very soon. Acaba says that the Moon is going to become the next major destination for space missions, mostly as a jumping-off point to colonize Mars: "It's a logical first step to go back to the moon. And while we've been there before, it was a very limited time-frame, and we have new technologies that we want to test, not only on the lunar surface but just orbiting the moon, getting some kind of a gateway so that we can go to Mars from there."

Whatever the case, it's reassuring to know that if astronauts can conquer their fear of heights while in space, we can probably overcome our own personal hurdles, too.

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