Cockeysville native Reid Wiseman has spent the past five months sharing awe-inspiring views of Earth from more than 200 miles above, but in a recent tweet, he said he's ready for the opposite view — of the International Space Station, distant and zipping through the night sky.
He'll have the chance soon, as he's scheduled to return from the space station Sunday night. The NASA astronaut and two crew mates, a German astronaut and Russian cosmonaut, are expected to land in the steppe of central Kazakhstan about 11 p.m. Eastern Time.
But the station won't go long without a Marylander aboard — Columbia native Terry Virts is scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan in two weeks, and he said he is looking forward to following in Wiseman's footsteps.
Wiseman's time in space included shoutouts to his alma mater, Dulaney High School, and to fellow Orioles fans. He gained more than 300,000 Twitter followers with frequent images of Earth from space he shared.
"I've got some big shoes to fill," Virts said in an interview from Russia. "I'll do my best to try and keep up with Reid. It'll be tough."
Wiseman launched to the space station May 28 after 21/2 years of preparation. Over the summer and fall, he and crew mates maintained the station and conducted science experiments.
He embarked on two space walks last month, spending more than 12 hours in a spacesuit tethered to the station while installing and repairing equipment on its exterior.
But the 41st expedition to the space station will come to an end when Wiseman, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev depart aboard a Soyuz spacecraft about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, tumbling back to Earth less than four hours later. Wiseman tweeted Friday that the crew successfully test-fired the spacecraft's thrusters.
"Everything worked flawlessly — ready for a Sunday departure," he wrote.
Wiseman's parents, Bill and Judy Wiseman of Cockeysville, are ready, too.
"We just want him to come back safe and sound," Bill Wiseman said. "I'll feel relieved at that. The kid's gone a long way since I taught him how to ride a two-wheeler."
The Wisemans traveled to Kazakhstan to watch their son's launch, but this time, they'll be watching live on NASA TV, he said. NASA arranged two video chats for the parents with Reid over the five months, and he was frequently able to call them, he said.
In a call days before days before the landing, Reid Wiseman told his parents he was getting ready for the bumpy landing in Kazakhstan. To soften the arrival, four parachutes deploy 15 minutes before landing and six small engines burn a second before landing, but the spacecraft still tumbles violently — requiring custom-fitted seat liners for each passenger.
"He tells me it's going to be the amusement ride of all the amusement rides," Bill Wiseman said.
After landing, NASA will whisk Reid Wiseman to Houston so his wife and two daughters can welcome him home, and wish him a happy birthday — Wiseman turns 39 on Tuesday.
Virts said he and Wiseman swap emails every few days, and last week Virts and crew mates had a teleconference with the crew aboard the station about what to expect in their first days in space.
And Virts said he plans to consult with Wiseman on how to connect with his hometown over his six months in space.
"I'll definitely be keeping Maryland and Baltimore on my radar, and we'll definitely do some things," Virts said. "I'll have to ask Reid for some ideas."
It won't be Virts' first trip to space — he spent about two weeks there as a pilot of the space shuttle Endeavour in 2010. In that mission, he helped deliver two of the space station modules where he will soon be spending a lot of time, the Cupola, from which Wiseman snapped some of his iconic images of Earth, and Tranquility, which contains exercise, water recycling and environmental control systems.
Virts said he expects it to be a different experience this time around, having to get used to constant floating and other quirks of life in zero gravity.