Navy Cmdr. Reid Wiseman spent 21/2 years preparing to travel 220 miles above Earth's surface, live six months in cramped quarters and walk in space.
That doesn't mean he isn't a little scared.
"There are moments when the adrenaline just crushes you," the Cockeysville native said in an interview from Star City, Russia, where he is training to launch May 28 aboard a Russian ship. "Holy smokes, I'm getting on that rocket in 21/2 weeks, and this time next month I'll be floating on the space station going 18,000 mph. It's still a little bit unbelievable."
At first, the thought of becoming an astronaut seemed too unrealistic to even dream about for Wiseman.
He knew he was destined for the skies, pursuing a career as a Navy pilot with fervor. He took Russian as a Dulaney High School student, thinking it might come in handy to know the language of one of the world's superpowers — now one of only two nations capable of manned space flight.
Even when NASA selected Wiseman and eight others from a pool of 6,000 to enter astronaut training in 2009, a future in space wasn't guaranteed as the space shuttle program wound down.
But now he's scheduled to ride a rocket from Kazakhstan out of Earth's atmosphere on a journey to the International Space Station. He will spend six months there, conducting experiments, making repairs and keeping the 16-year-old orbiter running smoothly.
Wiseman, as part of the crews for the space station's 40th and 41st expeditions, will assume the roles of janitor, maintenance repairman and scientist, as he puts it. He is scheduled to make at least two space walks to adjust equipment outside the space station, the first components of which were launched and assembled in 1998 and which has experienced hiccups in recent years, including a coolant leak last year that delayed a resupply mission.
Despite his apprehension, the 38-year-old said he is mostly excited — as he has been throughout the process.
"His words were, 'This is insane,' " said his mother, Judy Wiseman, when NASA picked him. "He was just so out of his mind."
His upbringing on Sandringham Road in Cockeysville didn't portend a future in space, though he did always have a fascination with rockets and planes, said his father, Bill Wiseman.
It was his brother Billy, older by five years, who might have appeared more clearly destined for greatness, taking gifted-and-talented classes at Dulaney and going on to the U.S. Naval Academy. Billy Wiseman was part of the academy Class of 1992's "Great Mule Caper," snatching four live mascots from West Point before that year's Army-Navy football game. He went on to join the Navy's SEAL Team 5.
While Reid Wiseman said he wasn't a straight-A student, friends and former teachers at Dulaney said his personality and work ethic showed something special.
"Just watching Reid, you could almost tell he was destined for success," said Joyce Lehmer, his English teacher for two years. "He never missed a deadline, his attendance record was superior, he was cooperative and courteous."
He was the No. 2 player on Dulaney's golf team, played percussion in the marching band and was a member of the Russian Club. Russian teacher Dale McPherson said that while Wiseman wasn't the program's top student, he had an "unbelievable" personality.
It was a trip to visit his brother at the academy and watch the Navy's Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet jets fly over that Wiseman recalled setting his mind on the sky.
"It's hard to really put it in words, but just seeing those airplanes fly over, and they were just so smooth and so precise, to me it was just really motivating and really amazing to see that," Wiseman said. "When you're young and impressionable, seeing that stuff, you're like, 'I've got to go do that.' "
He took that passion to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and then on to the Navy after graduation. He served five deployments, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end, he was flying F/A-18s in combat.
He first took a shot at the space program in 2004 — he still has the rejection letter, he said — and applied again in 2008, still without expectation of being accepted. As NASA narrowed the pool of applicants from thousands to hundreds to dozens, Wiseman found himself shocked at every step.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams," he wrote in an email to his family in January 2009. "My chances are now 1 in 110 but that is still a bit of a long shot!!!"
NASA doesn't provide details about its selection criteria, but Wiseman said a common thread among him and his peers was that they all would have been happy continuing whatever they were doing if they weren't chosen.
They were told from the get-go their selection wasn't a guarantee they would go to space — the last space shuttle launch was in 2011. Wiseman spent three years supporting space station missions from Johnson Space Center in Houston.
But now he is set to become one of fewer than 600 people to travel to space. His parents, his wife, Carroll, two young daughters, and high school friend Brian Frank will be among those at the launch site watching him blast out of the atmosphere.
His parents acknowledge their worries, which prompt a lot of extra prayers for their son. But his enthusiasm makes up for it.
"He has this love for what he's doing," Judy Wiseman said. "I have to be happy for him for that."
Part of that enthusiasm is for experiencing what so few others have — Wiseman said he hopes to educate and engage the public by tweeting from space (from handle @Astro_Reid) about what it's like to hurtle around the globe.
"If I can share that on Twitter, that almost childish enthusiasm for the mission, that's really something I look forward to," Wiseman said in an interview on NASA TV in March. "Will I open my food and just have Cheerios go everywhere?"
Cmdr. Gregory Reid Wiseman
Education: Dulaney High School, Class of 1993; bachelor's degree in computer and systems engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1997; master's degree in systems engineering, the Johns Hopkins University, 2006
Family: Wife, Carroll; two daughters
Career: Designated a naval aviator in 1999, serving at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va.; graduated from U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 2004, then sered at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Southern Maryland; was deployed in Middle East flying F/A-18 Super Hornets when he was selected for astronaut training in 2009.