National Geographic astronaut and photographer Terry Virts has seen Earth in a vastly different way than many others have. Not just with his aerial views from the International Space Station where he’s taken over 300,000 photos, but also with his views on life itself. Virts talked to Metro about what to expect from his Jan. 17 show at the Kimmel Center, his incredible out of this world experiences and why you should never say never.
National Geographic astronaut and photographer Terry Virts talks out of this world experiences and wisdom on life
What came first: your interest in photography or space?
Terry Virts: I think it was Apollo, I remember the first book I ever read was Apollo. I was just captivated by the moon at a very young age and being an astronaut. A little while later I got my first camera in elementary school. It was kind of the same time but I think the space came before photography.
Do you have a favorite photo that you’ve taken?
Terry Virts: It’s hard to say favorite, you know I’ve taken over 300,000. But the one in particular that stands out is the very last picture that I took. I wanted to get one more good sunset because I love sunsets. So I went down and I took off the window cover, which is this plastic thing that would ruin your pictures, I set the camera up and I got this starburst image of the sun over this rounded curved Earth since I used a really wide 10-millimeter lens. I looked at the preview screen on the camera and I thought okay, this is the best picture I’m ever going to take in my life, I’m done- no more pictures. So I packed the camera, pulled the card out, downloaded it and I literally went down the Russian Segment, put on my space suit and came back to earth. But I think maybe in some ways I’ll save the best for last.
What has been the biggest obstacle or challenge that you’ve been faced with through all of your endeavors?
Terry Virts: I think the hardest thing I’ve had to do as far as just training was learning Russian. The Russian language is really difficult, and I love languages. I was a French minor in college and lived in Germany where I learned German. So it’s not that languages are so difficult but the Russian language is pretty hard. I think another one of the challenges that I’ve had to overcome is when you say you want to be an astronaut people think that’s crazy and no one gets to be an astronaut. I just internally had to tell myself this is what I want to do. Or this is what I’m going to do. I’m realistic and not everybody gets to do it, but I set my mind out to do what I wanted to do. I was part lucky but I also think a big part of it was I was willing to go for it. One of the messages I talk about in my speeches is don’t tell yourself no. It’s very easy for younger people and some older people as well to do that, they have this dream and they think it’s never going to happen so they never even get out of the starting gate. That’s what one of my messages is. Get out of the starting gate, because if you don’t you’re not going to get it, and if you do you might. If nothing else you’ll learn something along the way.
Any more space trips coming up in your future?
Terry Virts: You know I’ve learned, one of my wisdoms, is to never say never. I don’t plan on it, I retired from NASA two years ago and when I did that’s a one-way door you walk through. So I hadn’t planned on it, but now there are commercial companies so who knows?
What can the people of Philadelphia expect from your Nat Geo Live event?
Terry Virts: They will learn a lot about what its like in space and they will see beautiful images of Earth and our universe. More importantly than either one of those things is hopefully they’ll learn some important lessons from life down here on Earth. How we get along with each other and more inspirations. Space for me is the vehicle or the mechanism, it’s the means but it’s not the end. The end is people and life on Earth.
If you go: Jan. 17, 8 pm, Merriam Theatre at the Kimmel Center, 250 S Broad St., Philadelphia, $32-$62, kimmelcenter.org