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Garrett Reisman GALACTICA.TV interview
Written by Marcel Damen   
Saturday, 21 March 2009

Last year I came into contact with NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman through Leah Cairns (Lt. Margaret "Racetrack" Edmondson). He told me this amazing story of him being a huge Battlestar Galactica fan and watching the show in space so he wouldn't miss an episode during his last mission. He even talked to Ron Moore and David Eick from space and in return got invited to visit the set.

SPECIAL THANKS goes out to Lucy Lytwynsky and Gayle Frere at NASA for their help in setting this up, since I know this wasn't an ordinary interview with one of their scientists about their normally very serious space program. And to Garrett Reisman of course for sharing his amazing story with the rest of the Battlestar Galactica fans.

 

First of all, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to do the interview, because we're very honored to have you.

Oh thanks guys. I'm a big fan of the show, so it's my honor to be here too.

So let's start by you telling us who you are, and why we're interviewing you.

(laughs) Okay... Well, it's a long story. Let's see, my name is Garrett Reisman, I'm a NASA Astronaut, and I was a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station for 95 days. 95.2 days to be exact. I was taken up to the station on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, March 11th, and I returned June 14th on Space Shuttle Discovery. So I had a long stint up there, and while I was up there, one the things I was doing was... they can ship you up some TV shows, and you can specify which ones you want to see. You know, twice a week, updated for you, and one of the ones I watched was Battlestar Galactica. And that's one of the main reasons I'm talking to you today.

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman

 

Ok, that's pretty cool.

Yeah, it was one of the four shows I'd selected to go up, and both myself and my commander are big fans of the show, and my commander was Peggy Whitson, an American Astronaut. We also used to watch it in Moscow, when we were training over in Star City, for when we'd train for the Russian parts of the Space Station in Moscow. My mom would actually tape the shows for me on old VHS tapes, and I would carry them with me through my training sessions in Russia, and my commander Peggy and I would watch them when working out. That was a really neat place. I have to say that I'm fortunate to have had some of the most unique Battlestar Galactica viewing opportunities of anybody. (both laugh)

Yeah, watching it from Russia, watching it in space... pretty cool! So then what happened? You were watching it in space, and then??

I was watching it in space, and one of the things we get to do, for those of us who are long duration crew members, meaning that we're space station crew member and will be up there for months on end. One of the things we get to do is specify a few celebrities or other people of interest that we would like to talk to, and then we have some psychological support people here at NASA that go around to these people and say, "Hey, there's this guy up in space who'd like to talk to you as sort of a morale boost." and they go ahead and organize that. So I listed Ron Moore and David Eick as people who I'd like to talk to, and we also organized it so it was also at a time when my commander was available as well. So Peggy and I both had the chance to chat with them for about an hour, a little less than an hour while we were up in space.

So, what did they think of that?

It was fantastic! You know they start out with asking us if we had any questions, and I asked who was the last Cylon was. (both laugh) They couldn't tell me, but it was really neat, because they had questions about what life was like for us aboard the Space Station, and we had lots of questions for them about the show. We were both... it was really fun I think for all four of us because we really enjoyed their show, and it was a neat opportunity for us to gain a little more insight into their creative process, and thank them for what they do. They're also big fans of the space program, and said that one of the things that got them interested in Science Fiction was watching science/reality, the flights of Apollo and Mercury, and the things that NASA has done. So it was... we really respected what each other was doing, that made for a really fun chat from space.

Then I understand they invited you to the set?

Yes, that's right. So when I got back, they invited me to come on up to the set. And I jumped at that opportunity, and in fact we're not supposed to travel within the first 30 days of coming back, after a long mission like that. And I believe this was at right about the two week point, I'd only been back for two weeks. But I told my bosses, you know, they're going to have to hold me back, I'm going. (both laugh) And I was fortunate that my recovery was progressing much faster than expected, and I was able to go. It was really neat. Flying in space is really cool, but getting to do something like that makes it even more cool. And I got to go to the set and see... they were actually filming the final episode of Season 4, the final episode of the whole series. So it was really special to be there at that time.

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman meeting the Battlestar Galactica cast and crew

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman meeting the Battlestar Galactica cast and crew

 

So who did you get to meet, and were they excited to meet you as well?

Oh yeah, yeah it was really fun, I got to meet a lot of the crew, and the cast as well. So, I got to first watch, I guess it was Adama and Tigh, it was a flashback scene where Adama and Tigh were talking to a young Boomer, and I got to watch them. Then meet all three of the actors and the producers, Ron Moore was there as well. And I got to chat with them for awhile, and that was really fun. A lot of questions about space, and I got to tell them about watching Galactica in space, and it was really neat to me. I remember describing to them what it was like watching Galactica in Russia. When we were training over there in Russia, we'd train all day in this... it was called Star City, it was a secret city during the Cold War, and it's their version of the Johnson Space Center. Basically where they do all their astronaut training and it's still a Russian Air Force Base, so they've still got army, or Air Force guys in uniform, soldiers around and stuff. But it is a dilapidated place, it was built a long time ago, so you're training all day, learning to fly in space, training on this space hardware in these buildings that are dimly lit, and in a lot of cases are falling apart. Then you need to also know the Russian winter, there's very little sunlight, and since we're training during the day, we don't get to see it all since the sun is only up for only four hours a day in the middle of the winter. Then you trudge back through the wind, the whistling wind, the, you know that type of environment, to go down into the deep basement where our gym is, and then turn out all the lights and hop on the exercise bike, and with the wind still howling on the other side of the glass paned windows. You then watch Battlestar in a dim-lit environment, and that was really a great way to watch the show. And then I joked with them that over in Russia, they still have the chords on their phones too! (both laugh)

Anyone you liked meeting in particular on the show?

Well, it's really fantastic that I got to meet so many people up there, especially a lot of the crew, but I also got to meet a bunch of the cast. I think I'd mention that I had met with Edward Olmos and Grace Park, but I also met... the person I probably spent the most time with than any of the cast was Leah Cairns, Racetrack. That was really cool, because I got to hang out with her for quite awhile, and I got the inside skinny on what it was like to be an actor on the show, and she was a really, really, pleasant lady, and a big thrill for me to talk to her for a while between takes.

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman meeting Leah Cairns on the Battlestar Galactica set

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman meeting Leah Cairns on the Battlestar Galactica set

 

Did you also exchange some details? Uh, did she ask how it was in space, maybe to give a better performance in her acting?

Yes, you know she did, ask me some things what it was like to be up on the Station and stuff. I dunno, actually there was a scene that she was actually going to do, where she was going to be just floating in weightlessness, and I gave her some pointers actually on how the body, how it responds, and what posture you would essentially adopt in that environment. She was really eager to learn that stuff, and that was really cool for me to actually contribute to the veracity of the show. Then they cut the scene! (laughs) maybe they, you know I was only there one day, maybe they were going to go back to it later. So maybe she'll be able to use it, I hope so, because it was fun giving little instructions.

The funny thing was that I talked to her later and told her that you'd emailed, and she said that the funny thing was that meeting you for the first time was... the set was pretty closed at the time because they were shooting the last episode, you know, you couldn't even get your own mother in. You were doing the clap board, and the first thing she thought was "Who the hell is that?" (both laughs) Because it was such a closed set, and nobody could enter.

Yeah, I could almost reach out and touch them in their cockpit as I did the clapper. And then I realized that they had no idea who I was , but I knew exactly who they were as I'd watched the show, and knew both of them. I figured that they were totally clueless, and I'm waving like a total tourist, and I predicted that she was thinking exactly that. (laughs)

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman holding the clapboard on the Battlestar Galactica set

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman holding the clapboard on the Battlestar Galactica set

 

Also the photo of you doing the clapboard shows her face, and she said the face speaks like a million words, because she was really thinking at that moment "Who the hell is that holding the clapboard?" So that was pretty funny.

Yeah, that's no surprise. (laughs)

She thought it was really cool meeting you and everything. She also told me that...

Well that's great, that's great. Well it was also a big thrill for me, and uh, she just struck me as a really, really nice person. I had to be in New York the whole next day.

Okay.

So I drove, I left the set at about one in the morning, and I'd only planned to be there until only like eight o'clock at night. But I was having so much fun! Also I got to, that's another thing, I think it's ok to put in there, but I got to be a Colonial Marine!

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman as a marine on Battlestar Galactica 2003

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman as a marine on Battlestar Galactica 2003

 

Yeah, I read that they'd put you in a suit.

Yeah, that was a huge draw for me, that really, really fun to get to play a guy in space on a TV show, just after coming back from space two weeks before. It was, doing that was really cool. You know, I was asking the director about my character, and motivation, and you know, the character arc. And he says "Listen, your character really only lasts on screen for about only 10 seconds, so I really would worry about it." (laughs) But anyway, if you do see me in the finale, you'll have to really, really keep... if I don't get edited out, you'll have to keep your eyes peeled, because you'll miss me.

Oh, well nobody will miss you now, because once we put up the interview, everybody will be watching [for you].

Oh yeah? That'd be funny actually. Maybe that's good, maybe that'll give them some incentive to not edit me out.

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman as a marine on Battlestar Galactica 2003

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman as a marine on Battlestar Galactica 2003

 

Yeah, there you go!

So anyway, that was really fun, but talking to her afterwards and stuff was really a thrill. So I left at 1 am, and I had to go all the way, I was flying out of Seattle, my flight left at 6 o'clock in the morning, and it's about a four hour drive. So I drove directly, and normally you don't even drive within 30 days after coming back from space, and here I was at about 14 days. Now I got to drive from one in the morning to five in the morning to the airport, and there was a thunderstorm, but I managed to get on the plane. Then I flew from Seattle to Houston, Houston to Dallas, and from Dallas to New York, and then from there I went directly to a bar in New York. (laughs) It took me about 24 hours to make that trip from Vancouver to New York, then it dawned on me that used to take only 10 minutes [up in space]. (both laugh) That was kind of a bummer.

So what else did you notice on Battlestar Galactica that was really well done as that's really how it was in space?

Yeah, there were a lot of things, especially with the flying and the... you know, the military aspect. I'm a civilian, but I work with a lot of military guys, and I could tell that the comm., just the way that they talk to each other, especially during what we would call dynamic phases of flight: combat, launch and landing type of events. It's pretty accurate, the way they communicate to some of the phraseology and type of concise communications that we use. That is very similar, but the big difference though is, I really got to tell you. I told Ron [Moore] and David [Eick] when I had the chance to talk to them; we don't have any artificial gravity up there in space. (laughs) And I'm grateful for it, because that floating, it's really more like flying is one of the best parts of being up there on a daily basis, it's the best part, and you push off of a wall, we say floating, but it's really more like flying because you're -- as soon as you push off, you're shooting through the air like some kind of superhero. It never struck me as strange before, but the first time I watched Battlestar in space, and I saw them walking around in the CIC there, and I thought to myself "What are they doing, walking? Why would they possibly deprive themselves of the greatest joy that we have being up here?" They've gotta be crazy, you know? So for the first time, it struck me as really strange.

Yeah, I guess it would be a little bit more difficult to film if everyone was floating around.

Yes, yeah that is the obvious reason. You know, they do have a limited budget, but for movies like Apollo 13 for like 10-20 seconds at a time they were able to film real zero-gravity scenes, by shooting in an airplane. But there's no way that you could fit all the corridors of the Galactica into an airplane that does the parabolic arcs to get zero gravity. Technically speaking that isn't going to work, but maybe one day with CGI, who knows.

Yeah. So, what inspired you to become an Astronaut, was it watching Science Fiction?

It was a little bit of that, yeah. I mean, going back as a kid, I was big fan of Star Trek and the Star Wars movies, and also 2001 [A Space Odyssey] was a pretty big influence on me, all of that stuff. But I'd say what inspired me more were the early NASA flights, especially the Apollo flights to the moon, and I had a Super-8 film of a... I guess it was Apollo 11, yeah. It was a Super-8 Film of Apollo 11 and I watched it on my family's movie projector so many times that the film kept breaking, it got to be very old and brittle. I kept using Scotch Tape to put it back together, so eventually the weight of the Scotch Tape on the reel was heavier than the weight of the film. So yeah, that's really what inspired me, but I never thought I'd be an astronaut as a kid. I didn't think it was within the realm of possibility, I would have been thrilled to go, but I never took it seriously as a career until I got older and most of the way through undergraduate school. I realized that... I started looking at some biographies of the mission specialists in the shuttle program, and I realized that what I was doing with my career, my life was not all that dissimilar, and that maybe there's an outside chance that this actually could happen. That's when I really started to think about it, and decided to fill out the paperwork and apply.

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman

 

And was the road long for you? Did you have to do a lot of training?

Uhm, yeah, I did. You know, I finished up with my PHD at CalTech and then I started working at TRW, an aerospace company in California. Then I got called in for an interview, and I was fortunate enough to get picked up, but that was back in 1998 when I was first selected, and it was 10 years from that point, almost 10 years exactly. From that point to when I finally got to launch, so that was a long time preparing. There's a multitude of reasons for that, but it was a long road, and a lot of time overseas. Not only in Russia, but also in Japan, Montreal, Cologne. Because each partner in the space station project trains their own equipment. So when we're going to learn about the Japanese module, we'd go over to Tokyo, and when we'd want to learn about the European-Columbus module, we'd go over to Cologne.

Ok, so how was your first experience in space? What did you... what was the first thing that popped to mind when you saw the Earth from space?

You know, that's interesting. I'll have to be honest with you, the first time I saw Earth from space, I expected some sort of an epiphany. You know, I thought this was going to be a real transcendental moment. It was shortly after liftoff, you know for the eight and a half minutes of launch I was strapped into my seat, I didn't have a window, I was just staring at one of the lockers in the mid-deck of the shuttle. As soon as the engines stopped and we were weightless, I immediately had to get to work because we had a lot... the first day is very busy, there's a lot of work you have to do to convert the Orbiter (The Space Shuttle) from the launch mode to its orbital mode, and so I was busy then.

One moment I was working on something, maybe a half hour after the engines had cut off, I happened to glance up to this small hatch window, and I saw the Earth. And I was like "Ok, I have to take a look." (laughs) I went over to the window and I looked, and it was beautiful! Absolutely stunningly beautiful, but it wasn't a life changing movement I have to say, it was not quite what I expected. It was a fantastic view, but it didn't overwhelm me in that sense. But over time, over the course of several months, I never got tired of looking at it, especially looking at places I had been, and seeing what they look like from space, because it's a vastly different perspective.

And the thing that was closer to an epiphany for me was at one point I looked out, was within a day or so of being in orbit, I looked at the horizon, and I could see how thin the atmosphere was. And the atmosphere was... it just was the thinnest sliver of a band around the earth. And if you look, one would describe this as if you hold your arm out at full-arm's length, and I think if you stick out your pinky [finger] basically, that's the thickness of the atmosphere as seen on the horizon from our altitude. That's really not much, and it looked incredibly fragile. Before this, I kind of thought of the skies and seas as these vast, limitless expanses, and I don't think of it that way anymore. Especially when you consider how thin the atmosphere is and when you consider the ocean is a tenth as a... you know, ten times as less thick as the atmosphere is. You get the feeling that everything that we think as being Earth, all the forests, oceans, trees, and mountains. All that stuff is just the thinnest little coating on the top of a gigantic rock.

Yeah, it's all pretty fragile.

You'd think of it as a huge planet, but what we think of as the planet, is really just a tiniest, little part of it.

So, was it what all you expected, from all of the training that you had, and finally ending up there?

You know, in a lot of ways, it was better than what I expected. I didn't anticipate how much fun the flying was going to be, the floating. Uhm, as far as the space walks and operating the robotic arms, and the space station itself, I think the training really did prepare us well for all those things. You know, the way to describe it, especially in the beginning was it was a very strange combination of the familiar and the outlandish. So there are things when I was outside doing my space walk and I was looking right at my worksite, and I was moving around and using my tools, it had felt just like the training I had done in a giant swimming pool where we'd practiced these things.

So, I felt like I was in the pool, but then when you look up from your immediate area, and there you see the entire east coast of the United States whizzing on by below you, and you realize that uh, that, is outlandish. So at times you go on this crazy rollercoaster ride between those two extremes, and it was pretty exciting.

Ok, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to share these amazing stories, and I'd also like to thank NASA for granting this really weird interview. (both laugh) It's kind of out of the ordinary I think for you as well.

 

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman

 

No problem! It was uhm... it was really neat for me. Thanks for the interview and you know, having the chance to watch it in Russia, and watching Battlestar also while on orbit, you know that was also another really neat thing I'd like to describe to you.

We'd play it on the, the only video screens up there are on laptop computers that we also use for work, and we could watch it on that little screen. But what I would do is float around the module and turn off all of the lights, and you'd still have you know, a few blinking lights from all of the equipment and LEDs, and some of the noise that the equipment makes. But for the most part it was pretty dark, and then I'd just float there and hold onto the tip of the laptop with just like two fingers, my thumb and my pointer finger, and that'd be enough to stabilize me as I watched the show, That, that was a really fun way to watch Battlestar, and I recommend it to all the fans out there. (both laugh)

I wish we could try it, definitely beats watching it on TV. Thank you very much for doing this.

 
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