INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Notre Dame grad Indiana native who's commanding the International Space Station said Thursday he's looking forward to a visit back home after he returns from his five months in orbit.
Astronaut Kevin Ford spoke via video hookup to the Indiana Senate in the Statehouse, where his older brother, David, was a state senator when he died of cancer in 2008.
Ford wore a blue shirt with a large Indiana flag emblem as he floated inside one of the space station's modules for the 20-minute conversation that was shown on a large video board above the Senate's rostrum. He spoke about the scientific work being done on the station during his stay as he took questions from senators and a couple of teenage family friends from his Blackford County hometown of Montpelier.
Ford demonstrated biting a solid bubble of juice that floated in front of him before seventh-grader Kelli Neff asked Ford what he wanted to do first after returning to Earth.
Ford drew laughs when he exclaimed he wanted a shower — "because I haven't had a shower in 107 days."
The 52-year-old Ford flew to the space station in October with two Russians aboard a Soyuz that lifted off from Kazakhstan. He's scheduled to be at the station until March.
State Senate leaders invited schools around Indiana watch the conversation with Ford that was streamed over the Senate's website.
Ford said he didn't see himself becoming an astronaut while he was a student at Blackford High School but always wanted to be a pilot. That led him to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Notre Dame and join the Air Force.
"I enjoyed physics and math and science," Ford said. "So I took the things I enjoyed and I would encourage students to find the things, the areas they really love the most and just put their heart into those."
Ford's 85-year-old father, Clayton, and three of his siblings were among the family members attending the Senate hookup, along with David Ford's son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
Nancy Richardson, Kevin Ford's older sister, said David Ford had introduced his brother to the Senate in 2001 after NASA selected him as an astronaut. She said David was a pilot who first took Kevin flying.
"Kevin decided that's what he wanted to do," Richardson said. "He started working in a grocery store in our little town of Montpelier so he could get money to take pilot lessons on weekends and he got his pilot's license by the time he was 17."
The video hookup ended with senators approving a resolution honoring Ford, who showed off a small Indiana flag that he said he also took with him into space for his 2009 mission as the space shuttle Discovery's pilot.
"I love the place," Ford said of Indiana. "I can't wait to come home to see you."