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Retired NASA astronaut Colonel Terry W. Virts discussed takeaways from his extensive time in space at a Harvard Business School event Monday.
Virts recently published Views From Above, which includes 300 photos he took during his time in space. He embarked on his first trip in 2010, piloting the STS-130 on a two-week trip to the International Space Station. Four years later, Virts returned to the ISS for 200 days. During this second expedition, Virts brought along his camera and captured more than 319,000 photographs.
“You can’t imagine how beautiful that is.” Until you see it with your own eyes. It was almost overwhelming,” he said. “It felt like I was seeing creation from God’s point of view.”
Virts described how though “99 percent of what you do is very mundane,” regular routines like exercise and sleeping became novel in space.
“I would get in my sleeping bag, I would put my arms and my head inside of it and float, and literally just float not attached to anything, and it was the best sleep I’ve ever had,” Virts said.
The missions, according to Virts, relied heavily on the cooperation of the international crew in the face of global conflict, specifically recounting the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 during his second mission in space. Flying over eastern Ukraine, Virts described seeing “red flashes.”
“Our goal as humans was to not die in space, and so we were like ‘the war on Earth is on Earth, we just have to work together as a crew,’” Virts said. “Sometimes you just have to work together with the team you're with.”
Virts went on to talk about other “profound” observations extending beyond war.
“In between China and South Korea is that black hole. It’s North Korea, and that white dot in the middle is Pyongyang. So compare Pyongyang with Seoul,” Virts said. “You can see politics on Earth. Corruption or whatever it is, you can see that from space.”
Virts said his fascination with space started at a young age when the first book he ever read was about the Apollo program.
“I remember reading this little book in kindergarten or sometime about the moon and I really wanted to be an astronaut,” Virts said. “I actually had a space shuttle poster on my wall when I was a boy.”
Virts reflected on the emotions he had “looking at and contemplating the universe” and feeling “very fortunate.”
“There’s over 6 billion people down there and there are six of us,” he said. “You need to do something with that, do some good with what you’ve been given.”
In closing, Virts remarked on the importance of not ruling out one’s dreams.
“The career lesson I learned is don’t tell yourself no.” Virts said. “That first step is the one that's the most important.”
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