THE FLIGHT STUFF: La Jolla Christmas Parade’s ‘space’ marshal spills all about life in space

Former International Space Station commander Shane Kimbrough makes a special appearance in La Jolla.

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Astronaut Shane Kimbrough’s inclusion in this year’s La Jolla Christmas Parade & Holiday Festival couldn’t have been more serendipitous. Parade organizer Ann Kerr Bache said she had already chosen “Christmas on the Moon” as this year’s theme when Charles Hartford, vice president of the Parade Foundation, casually mentioned: ‘Well, my former roommate at West Point is an astronaut. Do you think you’d be interested in having him?’ ”

Kimbrough — a former International Space Station Commander who still works on vehicle design for NASA — sat down with the Light for this interview the night before riding in the parade as its first Space Marshal.

You’ve probably spent a Christmas or two in space. What’s it like?

“I did, in 2016. We tried to make it as much like home as possible. We had a big Christmas meal with turkey and stuffing. My wife and other family members sent Christmas decorations and presents up for us all.”

Were they all floating around?

“We had to Velcro our stockings against the wall, but the bottom parts were floating. And we got to share our traditions with the Russian cosmonauts, because they have very different traditions, and their Christmas is on Jan. 7,, so we got to spend two Christmases in space. It was really neat. A lot of different cultures up there. I had French and Japanese astronauts up there as well, so it was really a cool experience.”

A lot of kids say they want to become an astronaut when they grow up. What made you actually do it?

“My grandparents, fortunately, lived across from the Kennedy Space Center. So when we spent time down there, my grandfather would drag me out to see anything launching. So I had a little more in my blood than I think most kids, and that helped me want to become an astronaut. I was also lucky enough to be a pilot flying Apaches in the Army. And then I just got lucky enough to be selected — on my fourth time applying to be an astronaut!”

What does blasting off feel like?

“It’s incredible. I’ve had the privilege of launching on a U.S. spacecraft in 2008 and a Russian spacecraft in 2016. They were very different experiences, by the way. The Soyuz was super smooth, very easy. The capsule sits on top of the rocket, so that helps make it nice and smooth. On the space shuttle, you’re side by side with the rocket, so there’s a lot more moving and shaking around, like you see in the movies, until the big rocket boosters fall off. And then, it’s pure acceleration.”

What is the most misunderstood thing about being in space?

“Maybe that spacewalking is easy. Everything you do when you’re spacewalking is extremely difficult. It looks easy, if you’re watching it on TV, because we’re moving fairly slowly, but that’s on purpose.”

Which movie did Hollywood get most correct about space?

“I really like ‘Apollo 13.’ They did a good job of capturing the family side, the astronaut side and the mission-control side pretty accurately.”

Is it OK to ask what going to the bathroom is like?

“Everybody wants to know that — whether you’re a kid or an adult! In the space shuttle, the bathroom had kind of like a suction thing. But on the space station, we had fans that pull things away from you, let me put it that way.”

Are there devices that attach to you?

“If you’re going No. 1, there’s a funnel — nothing that connects to you — but you just go into this little funnel that’s connected to a tube, and there are different shapes for male and female. For No. 2, you’re just sitting down on a contraption and you just have to make sure you stay attached to it, otherwise bad things happen.”

And have you been in there when bad things happened in the air all around you?

“Oh yeah, of course. It’s not a good day, but that does happen. And you’ve never done it before until you get to space. You can’t practice that on Earth.”