Spaced Out: Truckee man’s son-in-law on International Space Station
When local resident Jack Patterson looks up at sky, he isn’t searching for signs of other intelligent life forms or UFOs, but rather for his son-in-law, one of three astronauts stationed on the International Space Station (ISS).
Dan Bursch, 44, has been living on the station and working as a flight engineer since early December as part of a NASA mission called “Expedition Four.”
During his time on the ISS, Bursch and two other crewmembers will perform tests on ISS hardware, conduct internal and external maintenance tasks and develop the station’s ability to support various science experiments.
“Out of six billion people on this planet, there are only three people in space, and Dan is one of them,” said Patterson. “This has been really exciting for us. It’s quite a thrill to get e-mails and phone calls from space.”
Patterson said he has been following the sightings for the ISS and watching for the station to fly over Truckee every time it’s visible.
“We watch him almost every day on the NASA channel on television via satellite,” Patterson said.
He also got to watch Bursch’s second “spacewalk” on Wednesday.
Since becoming an astronaut in 1991, Bursch, a Navy captain, has blasted off four times and logged more than 746 hours in space.
Born in Bristol, Pa., Bursch received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the United States Naval Academy in 1979, and later a master’s in engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
As an astronaut, he was initially assigned to the Astronaut Office Operations Development Branch, where he worked on controls and displays for the shuttle and space stations.
Some of his many awards include: the Defense Superior Service Medal, NASA Space Flight Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.
When he’s not roaming the galaxy, Bursch lives with his wife, Roni, and three children in Houston, where he and other astronauts train at the Johnson Space Center.
“I’m sure that Roni gets nervous and realizes the potentials for danger, but she has accepted that this is part of his job,” Patterson said. “She talks to him almost every day on the phone and has special video conferences at the space center every couple of weeks. It’s definitely a challenge for her to be at home alone with three small kids, though.”
One of the most exciting things for Patterson and other family members has been receiving photos of their hometowns shot by Bursch from space.
Patterson, who has lived in Truckee since 1980, has a gallery of Lake Tahoe photographs that he’s received, as the Tahoe area is one of Bursch’s favorites.
“Dan and Roni come up to visit us in Truckee often and enjoy spending time in the mountains, skiing and hiking,” Patterson said.
He also said he’s been to Florida four times to watch each of Bursch’s launches and received special private tours of the training mock-ups of the shuttle and space stations — perks of having a family member in space.
“I’ve even operated the robotic arm they train with,” Patterson said.
Bursch is scheduled to return in mid-May on the shuttle flight delivering the “Expedition Five” crew.
For more information on Bursch or to track Expedition Four, check out http://spaceflight.nasa.gov. on the Internet.