One of the three astronauts who blasted into space Tuesday spent his high school and college years in Minnesota.
Mark Vande Hei, along with another American and a Russian, launched from Kazakhstan on Tuesday afternoon in a Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft and will arrive late Tuesday night at the International Space Station. They’ll spend nearly six months in space doing research.
“I always thought working in NASA would be amazing because my physics background, the photography you see from space, and the knowledge that we’re kind of pushing the limits with our space program,” Vande Hei said in a video. “The fact that I get to be an astronaut is gravy. And now … actually getting to go to space, I keep getting these bonus deals that are even better and better.”
As a child, he said he never mentioned his desire to be an astronaut. It seemed as unattainable as being a superhero, he said in the video.
He was born in Virginia, where he now lives with his wife and two children. He spent his elementary years in New Jersey before attending Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park and graduating from St. John’s University in Collegeville in 1989. Ten years later, he earned his master of science in applied physics from Stanford University.
“The thing about physics that I really like is it takes what we know, figures out a mathematical model for it, and then you can use that to try and get to what we don’t know and theorize about things. It helps us imagine things that we can’t even sometimes use instruments yet to detect, and then science follows up with that to try and do experiments and test theories,” he said in the video.
Both before and after his time at Stanford, Vande Hei served in the U.S. Army, eventually becoming a colonel. He joined NASA in 2006 and completed astronaut training in 2011. Tuesday, he launched with International Space Station Expeditions 53 and 54.
Before launching Tuesday, he and the other astronauts took a pre-launch nap. After crew showers and sanitization, he tweeted “I’m pretty sure I’ve never been cleaner.”
An hour later, he tweeted, “Goodbye normal bed for half a year.”
While in space, Vande Hei and the others will research the cosmic ray particles, the benefits of manufacturing fiber optic filaments in microgravity, therapies to improve muscle atrophy, and the abilities of a new drug to accelerate bone repair, according to NASA.
Vande Hei said he looks forward to furthering the aspirations and goals of science through this expedition.
“Most of our nation’s background involves people leaving what they were comfortable with and coming to a place that was new and different and very risky,” he said in the video. “I think it’s part of our national character to want to explore.”
— Mark T. Vande Hei (@Astro_Sabot) September 12, 2017