As the Space Shuttle Atlantis prepares for launch as early as next week, one hometown hero is still on cloud nine from his out of this world experience.
Traveling to space is a boyhood dream for most, but on July 4th, that wish came true for Aggie astronaut Michael Fossum.
"I've dreamed about this since I was a little kid, and feel like I'm the most fortunate person in the world to get to do this," said Fossum.
But lift off was not an easy task.
After being grounded for nearly a year and experiencing several weather delays the week of, the shuttle Discovery finally took off from Kennedy Space Center carrying Fossum and six crew members. It was the first launch ever on Independence Day.
"When it's out on the launch pad on launch day, everything is different. The bird is no longer sleeping, she's awake," said Fossum.
Less than nine minutes after takeoff, the main engines cut off and Fossum found himself going 17.5 mph, 220 miles above the earth.
Fossum remembered, "There's the horizon of the earth, and we're out over the northern Atlantic, so I see the ocean with clouds covering it. It's like, 'oh my goodness sakes, look at that site.'"
After a few minutes gazing into space with open-mouthed wonder, it was time to get to work.
Prior to the launch, Fossum spent more than 250 hours training in a giant swimming pool.
But nothing prepared him for the three space walks he performed during the mission.
"This is incredible, just incredible. It's hostile out here. This is not a friendly place, but it's so beautiful," described Fossum.
Fossum and fellow astronaut Peirs Sellers made critical repairs to the International Space Station and tested equipment designed since the Columbia disaster to repair damage to the shuttle's fuel tank.
According to Fossum, "We got everything done that we went there to do and a little bit more."
But suprisingly, walking in space for a grueling 21 hours wasn't the most challenging part of Fossum's mission. Instead, it was keeping up with his belongings.
"We have a little silverware set and I lost my fork for about eight days. It just disappeared. I turned my back on it while we were eating a meal and it escaped me," laughed Fossum.
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