NASA astronaut: Rochester is lucky to have upcoming eclipse experience

Astronaut talks about eclipse experiences

Col. Terry Virts, who has witnessed an eclipse from space, says Rochester is lucky to be in the path of totality on April 8th.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – We’re less than two weeks from totality and News10NBC is constantly looking to bring you as many unique perspectives on the big event as possible.   

Col. Terry Virts spent over seven months in space during his two spaceflights, piloting the Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-130 in 2010 and commanding the International Space Station during Expedition 42/43 in 2014/2015. On Tuesday, he spoke with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke. 

Col. Terry Virts Jr./Ret. NASA Astronaut: “I started off as an Air Force F-16 pilot and then came to NASA. I flew on the space shuttle Endeavor as a pilot and then on the space station. I spent a little over seven months in space. Actually, I finished building the space station. That was my first mission.”

Jennifer Lewke, News10NBC: “On one of those occasions, I understand you saw a solar eclipse from space?”

Col. Virts:It was an amazing thing. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to see it. In 2015, there was an eclipse in the North Atlantic and as we flew by, you could look off in the distance and you could see it. It was a big, dark spot on earth. It was like this black thing moving. It was like this alien thing on earth. It was a very, very unique perspective.”

Jennifer Lewke: “And you experienced totality back here on earth, too. How did it compare?”

Col. Virts: “I’ve got to be honest, it’s even better from Earth. It was spectacular. You know what was amazing about 2017 was seeing how wildlife reacted – seeing birds, and I remember the dogs started howling and just animals….They’re not watching channel 10. They don’t know that this is coming, so, they were really freaked out. How humans reacted – people started cheering and hootin’ and hollering. It was really a spectacular experience from earth.”

Jennifer Lewke: “I just think generally, commander, there seems to be a bigger interest in space and the sun and the moon when there’s a big event like this. Has that been your experience?”

Col. Virts: “It is. An eclipse reminds us that we’re not just living our mundane two-dimensional lives down here on earth. We’re on spaceship earth and it’s going through the solar system and there’s other planets and moons out there that are going around with us and we’re in a big galaxy, so eclipses kind of remind us of that big picture and give us a cosmic perspective.”

Jennifer Lewke: “We’re directly in the path. Folks in our region will get at least three and half minutes in totality. How would you suggest they maximize that time?”

Really take your time to enjoy it. The big question, I think, in Rochester is going to be will it be sunny or cloudy that day? But even if it’s cloudy, it’s going to turn into nighttime, so it’s still going to be an amazing thing. You’re very lucky in Rochester.

Col. Terry Virts

Jennifer Lewke: “I wonder where you’ll be spending the eclipse?”

Col. Virts: “I’m going to be here in the great state of Texas. I’m going to go up to Dallas. Texas has some pretty good sunny weather. You never know. It could be thunderstorms, but knock on wood it’ll be sunny that day. And Dallas is like Rochester. It’s pretty close to the center of that path.”

Cmdr. Virts is teaming up with SONIC Drive-In to celebrate and educate the public about the eclipse. He says the fast food chain has been a big supporter of astronomy and science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, or STEM, through the years. You can get free eclipse-viewing glasses with the purchase of the limited-time Blackout Slush Float.