Like most kids in 1969, Leroy sat enthralled in his Danville, California living room in front of a black-and-white television, watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. He was eight years old, the perfect age to decide that he would one day be an astronaut.
So how did it actually happen? Well, Chiao's high-level degrees in chemical engineering, experience developing advanced aerospace materials, job at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory in California, and over 2500 hours as an instrument-rated pilot certainly made for a convincing astronaut CV. But in the end, it all comes down to a standard application for federal employment, which Chiao got a hold of in 1989. It's the same one used by every federal employee, from the IRS on up.
On the blank line for "Job Applying For," he wrote "Astronaut."
And 7 months later in the summer of 1990, he was accepted with 22 others into the 13th class of US astronauts. After training, two years later he was assigned to STS-65 on the shuttle Columbia, which took off in July of 1994. Since then, Chiao flew on two more shuttle missions (STS-72 and STS-92) and commanded Expedition 10 on the International Space Station, spending more than half a year in orbit.
So what does being one of just a few dozen people who have spent such a long time in space feel like? What does it to do your life? That's what we aim to find out.
"There are only around 400 people worldwide [who have been in space], and even fewer for long durations," Chiao told me. "Six and a half months is a lot of time to reflect, think about life and what's important. The best thing you can do is just look at the Earth—it's beautiful, and every part is different, beautiful in its own way, and yet the same. It's pretty profound, as you would imagine. It gives you a much bigger view on life—small things that used to bother me seem so insignificant."
But in addition to attempting to articulate the massive hugeness of all that, Leroy's going to be blogging mostly about the small stuff—the daily tasks like brushing your teeth, taking a leak, and yes, reporting to work in the cold vacuum of space.
"You can't simulate life in microgravity," he says, "so when you get up there, the first interesting thing is seeing what life is like, familiarizing yourself with things like cutting your fingernails, brushing your teeth. How do you do that?"
Those are the questions Chiao's going to be answering this week, helping us lowly earth-anchored souls attempt to wrap our gravity-addled brains around what life must be like in space. I can't wait.
Stay tuned for Gizmodo's Astroblogger column with Leroy Chiao