At 8:30 this morning, recently minted NOLS grads sat down before roughly 60 NOLS staff members in the Headquarters lounge for a talk about their nine days in the Wyoming wilderness. With Lander’s fresh snow glaring outside, NASA astronauts Suni Williams, Ed Lu, Clayton Anderson, Robert Thirsk, Koichi Wakata and Rex Walheim discussed their recent experience; from learning the value of leadership styles, the similarities of exploration in the mountains and space, the joys of backcountry cooking and what it’s like to “drop trow” when it’s -20 degrees out.
The six astronauts - four Americans, a Canadian and a Japanese - claimed their NOLS experience fit perfectly into NASA training. Lu, comparing their backcountry trip to NASA simulation training, said NOLS was valuable for the reality of the situations, “instead of pressing a reset button, you really are held accountable for your actions.” Wakata, a Japanese astronaut who has spent the last 13 years training in the US for an eventual role on the International Space Station, compared the intensity of the experience of space travel with that of the winter mountains, saying it’s such a sensory overload, “you almost feel as if you are in a dream.”
None of the astronauts denied the hardships of their experience. Anderson claimed his fellow coursemates “learned a few new words” while he experienced the frustration of learning to ski in the backcountry. Williams spoke of the difficulty of sleeping in a quinzhee while sandwiched between 2 snoring men. Like many who have experienced a NOLS course, the hardships were now discussed positively and with humor. Anderson said he had gone from anxiety to frustration, then into a feeling of rising confidence and finally satisfaction.
Freshly showered and finally warm, the astronauts were looking forward; Williams ready for a vacation in the tropics, Thirsk anticipating a weekend with his family and Wakata excited for a meal of fresh sushi.
Chris Morris, NOLS intern