Shooting Stars

NASA Astronaut Terry Virts touches down
at Victoria

Terry Virts at work in the Cupola Module

By Gary Spencer

There’s an old saying that adults used to refer to a youngster with a lot of intelligence, ingenuity, and drive: “That kid’s going places.” That adage could have certainly applied to Terry Virts, as he’s gone a lot of places—most notably, to the skies and even outer space. After all, Virts is a former United States Air Force Colonel and NASA astronaut who’s been virtually all over the universe and seen things most of us can only dream of seeing first-hand. He’ll bring tales and evidence of his travels to the Victoria Theatre in a presentation entitled “Terry Virts: View from Above.”

Virts was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1967, just two years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The future astronaut claims that even as a young child, he had dreams and aspirations to take to the sky.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” he says. “The first book I read was about Apollo. Ever since then, I grew up with posters of airplanes and astronomy pictures on the walls of my room.”

Upon graduating from high school, Virts went into the United States Air Force Academy. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and earned his pilot wings at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. Over the course of his Air Force career, he logged over 5,300 flight hours in more than 40 different aircraft including the famed F-16 Viper and the Space Shuttle. This experience was invaluable to what Virts would end up
doing afterwards.

“I learned so much about staying cool under pressure, working as a team, learning and growing continuously, even many years after finishing college,” Virts explains.

In the year 2000, Virts was chosen by NASA to become an astronaut—a highly coveted position that doesn’t get offered to just anyone. While at NASA, he beefed up an already impressive resume by taking on assignments such as being lead astronaut for the NASA T-38 program, Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL) test crewmember, and Expedition 9 crew support astronaut. Virts also assumed command of the International Space Station as commander of Expedition 43, and became a CAPCOM, communicating with station crews from mission control in Houston.

But perhaps Virts’ favorite thing about his time at NASA was installing and opening the Cupola Module during his first spaceflight as pilot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2010. This groundbreaking piece of technology provided astronauts with a 360-degree view of the International Space Station located 248 miles above Earth as well as the entire planet. He claims it was the biggest moment of his entire astronaut career.

“I was honored to be the person to do that, and the view was unlike any that any person had ever had from a spaceship,” Virts says. “It’s kind of like having a bay window in space. When you float in there, you are surrounded by windows, so you can look up or spin around and there is a view of space all around you.

With the help of the Cupola Module, Virts began photographing the otherworldly things he was able to see for his own amusement. These photos provided unprecedented views of what exists beyond what our naked eyes could see on the grounds of planet Earth, and the results are breathtaking.

“Taking pics was a labor of love,” Virts says. “I filmed a beautiful planet in my spare time. I loved taking all kinds of pictures—aurorae, sunrises and moonsets, soft-lighting clouds, iconic locations on Earth—the list goes on.”

These photos were so awe-inspiring that National Geographic commissioned a book of his pictures entitled “View From Above” and also garnered Virts the opportunity to be on a mission to film shots for the IMAX movie “A Beautiful Planet.”

“Photography has always been something that I was passionate about, so being able to film ‘A Beautiful Planet’ was really a highlight. I took so many photos that when I decided to retire from NASA I really wanted to make a photography book. It was one of my top priorities after leaving.”

Virts is currently on tour to promote his “View From Above” book with a multimedia presentation featuring many of his films and photos taken from the Cupola during his many explorations as well as tales of his experiences and how it relates to those of us grounded on earth.

“The real message of my presentation is about life on earth and people,” Virts explains. “It’s about my mission and all of the excitement of launch and landing and spacewalking and emergenicies in space, but more than that, it’s about what I learned about life on earth—wealth, environment, and working with people from other countries. (Audiences) will leave with a unique perspective about life on earth and how we should get along with our fellow humans.”

“Terry Virts: View From Above” takes place on Sunday, Mar. 11 at 3 p.m. and Monday, Mar. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main Street, Dayton. Tickets begin at $28. For more information, call 937.228.7591, or visit More information about Terry Virts can be found at

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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