And life on station is like jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool. Things do not work like they do on Earth. Things are counter to your normal intuition. ROSENBERG: For example, one of the first things a rookie astronaut will notice is that in zero gravity even the smallest rooms feel bigger - much bigger because you're not just using one floor, you're using six because the walls and ceilings are floors, too. PETTIT: So the shuttle is pretty roomy, but the station is voluminous, and you feel lost. You feel, wow, I need to grab onto something but there isn't anything that I can grab onto and I'm just floating out here in the middle. And floating up to a window and looking out at Earth, you get to see views that are impossible to have when you are on Earth. Now on Earth, you look up and you see a meteor burning up. Well, when you're above the atmosphere, you see the meteorites burning up below you.
And during my spacewalk where I was looking down at Earth, I saw a meteorite, traveled between my legs, 400 kilometers away. ROSENBERG: What was the coolest thing you ever saw? PETTIT: Oh, gosh, one was a total solar eclipse. It was over the Indian Ocean. I've never seen one from the surface of Earth and I understand the physics. But to be able to look out the window and see the projected shadow of the moon on Earth, it's such an LED High Bay Light amazing moment. PETTIT: And then - and you wanted me to talk about then now? ROSENBERG: Yeah. PETTIT: And then Columbia - it just changed everything. WASHINGTON: When SNAP JUDGMENT returns, the best laid plans - the stunning conclusion right after the break. Stay tuned. (MUSIC) WASHINGTON: Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, "The Path" episode. Now, when we last left, astronaut Don Pettit was on the space station just finishing his first spacewalk. The mission was going well, but then the nation received news that no one wanted to hear.
PETTIT: Columbia, it just changed everything. ROSENBERG: Columbia was a shuttle that had just gone up on a mission that was separate from Don's mission on the space station. But they'd been up there at the same time, even spoken over the radio together, and now Columbia was supposed to be landing back in Florida. PETTIT: February 1, 2003. It was a Saturday, and it started off like all Saturdays. We were doing our communication with mission control when General Howell came on, and he told us that they just lost Columbia. And Sox and I - and Nikolai was there - and we looked at each other, and it's like, what do you mean lost Columbia? It took a while to register what was going on. ROSENBERG: What was going on was that the shuttle had broken apart on a re-entry at what's called entry interface.
That's where the Earth's atmosphere effectively starts at 400,000 feet. PETTIT: And as soon as it became apparent what had happened, I wanted to hear Don's voice just because I wanted to hear his voice.