September 21, 2014

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Astronaut returns to familiar ground

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — To infinity and beyond.

North Ridgeville’s star-bound son returned Thursday and had an out-of-this-world story to share.

CHUCK HUMEL / CHRONICLE
Charles O. Hobaugh, astronaut and North Ridgeville High School graduate, spoke Thursday at his alma mater.

Fresh off his latest mission to the International Space Station, 1980 North Ridgeville High School graduate and space shuttle pilot Marine Col. Charles O. Hobaugh briefly walked the halls of his alma mater Thursday. But instead of heading off to class as he did as student, Hobaugh headed straight to the gymnasium, where he was greeted like a rock star by the entire student body.

Hobaugh was one of seven crew members aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, headed for the International Space Station in early August for a 13-day trip.

After applause and cheers, Hobaugh immediately broke the ice by letting the students know he was on to their game.

“I’m a hero, but not because I’m an astronaut,” he said. “I know this is just because I got you all out of class.”

That might have been true from the way the students erupted in cheers at the comment. But soon, Hobaugh queued up a short video that documented the flight and showcased a breathtaking view of Earth and the students showed their awe.

They were eager to hear all about Hobaugh’s latest trip to space – and they wanted to know everything. In no time, the students peppered the astronaut with questions.

Q: What was it like in space?
A: “Unbelievable. From up there, you see a sunrise and sunset every 90 minutes.
Q: Why do we even spend the time and the money to go into space in the first place?
A: There is so much research being done up there that is benefiting medical advances on Earth.
Q: What was the point of the trip?
A: The point of the trip was to increase the power capabilities of a space station that 19 countries share.
Q: What did you eat?
A: Food is mainly dehydrated food.
Q: How did you sleep?
A: You sleep where and how you can.
Q: How did you shower?
A: Showering — you don’t.
Q: How did you use the bathroom?
A: We use the bathroom sort of the same way you do, but it’s more like a high-tech outhouse. But the next rain shower you have, you might want to look up and wonder what’s coming down.

At no time was Hobaugh at a loss for words. Going into outer space is a surreal experience, he said, and one he was happy to share with students.

“When you’re bolted down into that seat and the rocket boosters go off, there is no doubt in your mind you are going somewhere fast,” he said. “In the first eight and a half minutes, 60 percent of your training in gone. You’ve used just that much making sure you can get there.”

Chris Taylor listened with wide-eyed excitement. Hobaugh is living his dream, the 15-year-old said.

“I’m thinking about becoming a pilot myself,” he said. “I always wanted to fly just like him, so I’m going to give it a try. It may be a lot of work, but I’m still going to give it a shot.”

The only way to succeed is to try, Hobaugh told students.

He knew he wanted to fly when he was in high school, he said. He soloed from the Lorain County Airport before he ever drove a car.

Still, naysayers tried to tell him that piloting the ultimate plane was not within his grasp.

“But you just have to face those challengers and decide what you are made of,” he said.

“Either you can cave in and tell them they’re right or you can rise to the occasion.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com