When Ricky Arnold’s grandmother gave him a replica of the Apollo 11 spacesuit for Christmas when he was 5 years old, his father never expected it he’d be watching his son launch into space, albeit wearing a different suit.
Yet for Richard Arnold Sr., 80, who’s watched his son go from teaching abroad in places like Morocco and Saudia Arabia to launching with Russian cosmonauts into space, it’s now become the norm.
Arnold joined NASA astronaut Drew Feustel and Roscosmos’ cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev as they blasted off Wednesday from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan.
Ever since he joined NASA as a mission specialist in 2004, he’s been featured in any number of different missions, whether it be aboard the International Space Station or the worlds only undersea laboratory, Aquarius.
He’ll be aboard the space station again Thursday, where he’ll join station residents Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, Scott Tingle of NASA and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Nancy Arnold always knew her son was adventurous, but not necessarily to these heights.
“When he was younger, he said ‘I want to see the world,’” she said, without the thought he might’ve been speaking literally.
She added that, at the time, he was “a 16-year-old boy who couldn’t clean his room.”
While their son has either been abroad or out in the far reaches of space, the Arnolds have settled down in a suburban neighborhood in Arnold.
Raised in Bowie, Ricky looked to have a path toward being a career educator in sight.
After a very brief stint as an oceanographic technician at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, he moved on to teaching abroad, working as an educator in Casablanca, Morocco and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, according to NASA.
Arnold’s father said it was when he was teaching in Indonesia in the early 2000s when he saw a job listing for an astronaut at NASA, particularly one with an education background.
The agency had revived its Teacher in Space Project under a new name, the Educator Astronaut Project. The previous iteration was canceled after Christa McAuliffe, a Bowie State University graduate and teacher in New Hampshire, died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
Arnold said his son had applied for a number of jobs at the time and was hopeful his son would return to the United States.
“He kind of told us, ‘I applied, but thousands of people have also applied,’” Arnold said.
When he got the job, it took him down a wildly different career path. He went from teaching middle school mathematics in Indonesia to aboard the Soyuz MS-08 on its way to the International Space Station.
According to NASA, the team “will continue work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the International Space Station, humanity only permanently occupied microgravity laboratory.”
Ricky’s role relies heavily on his educational background. The administration wrote he’ll be engaging students and educators “in human spaceflight and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers” as part of the “Year of Education on Station.”
Arnold could not be in Russia for the launch, as his son told him only 15 people could come and he worried about bringing his 80-year-old father to a launch in the middle of Kazakhstan.
But the family put together a spirited celebration of sorts as the Arnolds dealt with a nor’easter thousands of miles away.
Arnold said he found a website that sells novelty socks and bought 20 pairs which include an astronaut against the background of space.
He said the whole family got into the act, all wearing a pair of the socks as they watched Ricky launch into space, either in-person or in a living room in far, far away Maryland.
As for whether his son experiences any of the political tension us earthbound civilians see every day between Russia and America when he flies into space with them, Arnold said it’s a non-factor.
“He’s pretty laid back about it,” Arnold said. “I don’t think there’s any political interference or interaction at all.”