On dark nights a small star-like light can be seen moving across the sky. It moves too fast to be a star but too slow to be a plane. That bright non-plane-non-star is actually the football field-sized International Space Station. A beacon of peace soaring at 17,000 miles-per-hour as it orbits Earth. It is the Mt. Everest of human engineering.
Dr. Scott Parazynski had seen the space station up close many times during his shuttle missions. He even took time to find the ISS in the sky while climbing the actual Mt. Everest in 2008. Parazynski, now a University Explorer and Foundation Professor at Arizona State University, is a physician and retired NASA astronaut. He flew on five space shuttle missions, conducted seven space walks, and has a very unique bond with space and Earth’s tallest mountain.
During an ASU Connections discussion, Parazynski says he decided he was going to conquer the 29,029 foot peak while gazing at it from space, “My very first mission in space was in November of 1994. I took, I think, the very best image looking straight down on Mt. Everest from space. You can actually see the climbing routes on the mountain. It’s really dramatic. At that point I said, ‘I really need to go do this’”
Fast forward 15 years to 2009, Dr. Parazynski is on the mountain he once gazed down upon from space, and now he is looking up at the space station. He’s fighting for his life in the deadly conditions on the mountain and somehow manages to contact the space station. Dr. Mike Barrett, orbiting 250 miles overhead, is able to communicate with Parazynski and his team as they trek the treacherous terrain. In fact, some singing is involved.
“When I was up high on the mountain I actually had a couple communications with Mike Barrett who was up at the International Space Station”, Parazynski says, “ I actually had some of my Sherpa buddies sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. It was his 50th birthday when I was on the mountain so we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him from Camp Two on Mt. Everest.” Camp Two is just over 21,000 feet above sea level.
Being the only astronaut to summit Mt. Everest seems to have has some perks.
Even after reaching the top of the world, Parazynski couldn’t help but recall his days in space. “I arrived at 4:00 am on the summit. So it was still night time. The sun began to rise at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning so I could see the sun come up as if it were an orbital sunrise. I could see the full curvature of the Earth. It was spectacular.”
Dr. Parazynski also took an Apollo 11 lunar sample to the summit. Apparently, you can take the astronaut out of space but you can’t take space out of the astronaut.
Listen to Dr. Parazynski’s full stories and more by listening to his full ASU Connections appearance from August 31st, 2015.