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‘Politicians draw borders, but you can’t see them from space’: NASA astronaut Wheelock to RT

Russia and the US should work together to benefit humanity, American astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock has said, noting that all human differences are forgotten when both nations work in the spirit of collaboration and respect for diversity.

Humans as species remain fragile creatures whose existence is often decided by the policy makers on Earth. But in fact, human-made borders and demarcation lines evaporate in thin air when viewed from a porthole of the International Space Station, Wheelock who has been in space twice told RT.

“I wish I could drag our president. I wish I could drag our congress up here [to the ISS] to see this. Just take a look and you see that thin blue line [atmosphere]. That’s all of our next breath… It’s like biting into an apple and looking at the thickness of the skin. It’s even thinner than that proportionally. And when you see that you begin to realize how fragile we are as humans. And maybe there’s more to this existence than survival or providing for ourselves,” the astronaut noted.

“We’re all breathing the same air. We can draw borders, but from space you can’t see them,” he added.

The New York native noted that all space travelers take great pride in cooperation between Americans and Russians in space exploration as a “monument of human achievement.”

“We always point to the space program because it’s something that we’ve done together and we – as cosmonauts and astronauts – we always point to that. And we say: Come on, guys and gals that make policy, look at what we’ve done together,” Wheelock said.

“I’ve never met Putin. I’ve never met Trump. I’ve never met these other leaders... I’m just banking on the heart and soul of Putin when he was a young child; of Trump when he was a young child. Just take yourself back there to when the world was a simpler place and reach out a hand of cooperation and understanding. And celebrate differences. We’re all different,” the astronaut stressed.

Yet the astronaut says politicians in the US tend to focus more on disagreements rather than reaching breakthrough with their adversaries.

“In the US we have a sarcastic saying: ‘We can put a man on a Moon, but we cannot figure out how to get along with our Russian partners,” Wheelock noted after having served as NASA’s Director of Operations in Russia where he served at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City.

Having been responsible for supporting Russia-based training and logistics of NASA astronauts and having served as the primary liaison between Star City and NASA operations in Houston, Wheelock expressed hope that Russians and American will find common ground and overcome their differences.

“I have to believe that when it comes to the tough decisions, especially between US and Russia, that the cooler minds, the more logical thinking, the people who understand the history of where we’ve been – good and bad, and the consequences of these things – will understand that it’s better to work together,” he said.

Moving away from the political assessment, the astronaut told RT that the future of space exploration and travel lies in the commercial sector with companies like SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin who are already doing “amazing things and technology.”

Commenting on the human quest to reach the Red Planet, Wheelock told RT that reaching Mars is still some 20-25 years away as modern science still has not figured out the way for the crew to survive the journey which will take several years.

Since space is “terribly unforgiving of mistakes”, the commander of a Mars mission would have to be a perfect balance of analytics, logics and impulse, the American noted.
“On that first mission to Mars we ‘re likely going to have a scientist, a poet, who can help keep the scientist and the pilot within themselves and help them to understand the profoundness of what they’re doing, and probably someone like a mechanic, who’s good with just resolving issues that can arise,” he added.

Wheelock also praised the realism of RT’s Space 360 project created in cooperation with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and Energia Rocket and Space Corporation. He noted that virtual reality could become a useful tool to prepare and train crews for various emergencies.

“I think it would be great for training. Specially, we can use it onboard for emergency training. We have three big emergencies that we are always prepared for – and hope to never have to react too. The first is fire, rapid decompression, a toxic release into atmosphere inside (the ISS). I see this as a really good way to a virtual reality kind of training through those scenarios; how to react in a particular emergency aboard the station. I think it’s going to be a great training tool.”