I’ve learned that nothing feels as amazing as water. The night my plane landed in Houston and I finally got to go home, I did exactly what I’d been saying all along I would do: I walked in the front door, walked out the back door and jumped into my swimming pool, still in my flight suit. The sensation of being immersed in water for the first time in a year is impossible to describe. I’ll never take water for granted again. My Russian crewmate Misha Kornienko says he feels the same way.
I’ve learned to better compartmentalize, which doesn’t mean forgetting about feelings, but instead means focusing on the things I can control and ignoring what I can’t.
I’ve learned how important it is to sit and eat with other people. While I was in space, I saw on TV one day a scene with people sitting down to eat a meal together. The sight moved me with an unexpected yearning. I suddenly longed to sit at a table with my family, just like the people on the screen, gravity holding a freshly cooked meal on the table’s surface so we could enjoy it, gravity holding us in our seats so we could rest.
We will never have a space station like this again.
During my year in space, my longtime partner, Amiko, had bought a dining room table and sent me a picture of it. Two days after landing, I was sitting at the head of that table, a beautiful meal spread out on it, my family gathered around me: Amiko; my identical twin brother (and fellow astronaut), Mark; his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords; my father; my daughters, Samantha and Charlotte; and Amiko’s son, Corbin. It was just how I’d pictured it. At one point in the conversation, Gabby pointed urgently at Mark, then me, back and forth, back and forth. She was pointing out that Mark and I were both making exactly the same gesture, our hands folded on top of our heads. I’ve learned what it means to be together with family again.
I’ve learned that most problems aren’t rocket science, but when they are rocket science, you should ask a rocket scientist about them. In other words, I don’t know everything, so I’ve learned to seek advice and counsel and to listen to experts.
I’ve learned that an achievement that seems to belong to one person probably has hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s work behind it, and it’s a privilege to be the embodiment of that work.
I’ve learned that Russian has a more complex vocabulary for cursing than English does, and that it also has a more complex vocabulary for friendship.
I’ve learned that a year in space contains a lot of contradictions. A year away from someone you love both strains the relationship and strengthens it in new ways.