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Astronaut has local ties

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DETROIT LAKES -- How many people in this area can say they actually know an astronaut? Turns out several people from the Becker County area, thanks to Dominic Pudwill Gorie.

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Gorie is commanding officer on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, up in space right now on a historic 16-day mission to the International Space Station.

Wayne Pudwill, Detroit Lakes, and his family has gone to Houston to see his first cousin's four either launches or landings from NASA. Wayne said Gorie told the family to come see this launch because at age 50, it might be his last.

"He'd go up again if it were his choice," Wayne said.

Wayne's wife, Linda, is the one to go to for information on the mission. She visits the NASA site (www.nasa.gov) multiple times a day to see what's going on with Gorie and his crew.

"Linda follows it and fills us all in," Wayne said.

And there's plenty to fill them in on.

This is Gorie's fourth mission for NASA. Growing up, Wayne said his cousin "talked more about being a pilot" than an astronaut. Gorie's father had been a fighter pilot and was killed in a crash. He was a hero, and Gorie wanted to follow in his footsteps, so he became a Navy fighter pilot. Gorie's grandmother splits her time between her home in Height of Land and down south where it's warm.

As an astronaut, Gorie has served as pilot for the first two missions and commander on the last two. According to his profile on NASA, Gorie has logged more than 32 days in space -- before the current mission -- and as commander, he is in charge of the execution of the mission, orbiter systems operations and flight operations, which includes landing the space craft.

Wayne said his dad's side of the family -- which includes Gorie -- was a large family and growing up, they'd get together each year. Now, with Gorie's space launches, Wayne said it's like a family reunion every time. The other astronauts even rib Gorie about having so much family at the launches.

On his missions, Linda explained, Gorie's trip in 1998 was aboard Discovery, which was the final Mir docking mission. His 2000 mission, also aboard Endeavour, was to do 3-D mapping of the earth's surface. In 2001, once again aboard Endeavour, he brought crew to the International Space Station.

Wayne said one of the neatest things was Gorie's 2001 launch, which was the first after the 9-11 attacks. He said hearing Gorie say, "Light 'em up and let freedom roar" was awesome.

With this Endeavour mission, which is the longest ever at 16 days, Gorie and the crew are in the process of bringing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robotic system, Dextre, to the International Space Station.

Also during this mission, the crew is testing putty for the space shuttle's heating shield tiles, which contributed to the Columbia explosion when it reentered the earth's atmosphere. According to newscasts, the mission on Thursday went well.

The Pudwill family went to see the launch this time, but Wayne said the landing they saw in 2000 was even cooler. For the launches, they were six miles from the launch pad, but could still see, and were even able to get photos of, the cloud of fire.

"It went from night to day," Linda said.

When they watched the launch, because the shuttle travels faster than sound, they saw the shuttle and then seven seconds later heard it take off.

He said at the landing, which they could view near the landing strip, they heard two sonic booms -- one when the nose came through the atmosphere and one for the wings -- and then saw the shuttle "floating" to the landing site.

Pudwills said Gorie and his wife have told them lots of information over the years about his trips to space.

"He said it's life changing because of the beauty of it," Linda said.

Wayne said he's seen images Gorie has shown him where his feet are bolted in, but he's floating and there's the black abyss behind him.

"We're nothing out there," Wayne said, saying the earth is as small as a star looks from earth.

"I was never interested in space until he went up. We're just nothing out there. Don't tell me there's not something else out there," he said.

Pudwill's children, Jessica and Cole, have gotten to see and experience the launches, landings and hear stories most teens won't get the chance to.

"It's unbelievable they can do that," Jessica said.

"It's amazing how fast it goes up," Cole said.

Some of the other amazing facts the family has learned from their cousin are that in space, the sun rises and sets every 45 minutes. When the sun is up, the temperature is 300 degrees above zero, and when the sun is down, it's 300 degrees below zero. Also, it only takes 90 minutes to circle the world.

Linda has e-mailed Gorie while he was in space, and he's returned the e-mail. He can also make calls from space. Linda said Gorie called his mother after he was in space but the rest of the family was still in Florida, but she missed his call twice. She said Gorie told her this isn't a call she should be missing because she couldn't return the call.

Although Pudwill said Gorie told them this is likely his last trip to space, he has mentioned to them he'd like to make a trip to Mars and the moon.

Until Gorie's return on this mission though, Linda will be faithfully checking on his progress in space. They'd like to go back for the landing, but are not sure that'll happen. It's not quite the same as watching it on television.

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