HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) on Redstone Arsenal has long been a big contributor to NASA’s efforts in Space exploration. Monday, it welcomed three astronauts who returned to Earth just 50 days ago, to speak with MSFC employees.

NASA Astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Roscosmos Cosmonaut Anna Kikina, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Astronaut Koichi Wakata recently splashed down in Tampa, Florida on March 11, 2023. The four astronauts were part of Expedition 68, a SpaceX Crew-5 mission.

According to NASA, Crew-5 spent 156.5 days aboard the International Space Station between October of 2022 and March of 2023.

The crew orbited Earth 2,512 times and traveled 66,577,531 miles.

Cassada, Mann, and Wakata visited Marshall Space Flight Center on Monday to speak about their trip.

In an interview with News 19, Mann joked that the actual takeoff went so smoothly she thought it might not have been real.

“Everything was very similar to the training, we joked that perhaps our trainer from SpaceX was going to open the side hatch and tell us it was all a joke, that it was just a training evolution,” Mann said. “It was definitely an exciting time, once you hit the countdown of the rocket, and you can really feel it start to rumble in your chest, and then liftoff you know that the mission has begun after many years of training and it’s a very exciting moment.”

Mann is a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and is the first indigenous woman from NASA to go into space. She served as commander of the Crew-5 mission and conducted two spacewalks, totaling 14 hours and two minutes.

While at the International Space Station, the crew members conducted scientific experiments and worked on maintenance projects.

However, one of the most important aspects of their trip was learning how to live in space.

“The living up there, that’s the stuff we need to get really good at before we go to deep space,” said Astronaut Josh Cassada.

Cassada is a U.S. Navy test pilot and served as a flight engineer for Crew-5. He did three spacewalks, totaling 21 hours and 24 minutes.

Cassada said the most nervous he was during the journey was when he needed to leave the International Space Station for one of his space walks.

“The suit that both Nicole and I used, the O2 actuator, the Oxygen actuator, was pretty stiff and it gets stuck,” he said. “For me in this one restart, I had to take it into a position and I just could not get it in there and it takes a little bit longer, the system is great it backs you up, but when you do get the message that says ‘oxygen off’, you’re like ‘hmm, I should probably sort this one out’.”

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Astronaut, Koichi Wakata shared one of the more lighthearted moments on board. He explained that the astronauts got pretty used to not having gravity.

“I’m a big fan of baseball,” Wakata said.

“This is only possible in space. You can throw a pitch and fly like the wind faster than the ball, without any practice you can hit the ball, and not only that you can catch it!” he continued. “Single-person baseball, this is only possible in space,” he said while the crowd erupted with laughter.

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The members of Crew-5 noted the importance of their visit to the Marshall Space Flight Center.

MSFC’s commercial crew support team helped provide oversight to safety standards for the Crew-5 mission spacecraft and monitored launch conditions.

Mann said it was special to get to meet people in person, who she had only talked with via space-to-ground radio.

“We got a chance to talk to Penny Pettigrew today,” Mann said. “I can’t tell you how many times I talked to Penny on Space-to-Ground but it was the first time I actually had the chance to meet her was today, so it’s really special for us to have the opportunity to meet you.”

Cassada echoed Mann’s sentiment, saying, “It was just an amazing, amazing team to work with on board and to interact with them today it was just really special to come by and tell them thank you in person.”

Crew-5 splashed down off the coast of Tampa, Florida on March 11th. Astronaut Nicole Mann said the team has just recently finished its 45-day run of rehabilitation to Earth efforts.

“It does take a while, but it is amazing how quickly your body adapts,” she said. “We also have a team of folks that are astronaut strength and conditioning coaches on the ground and we have two hours of rehabilitation every day, starting the day you get back, no days off.”

She said initially, she felt wobbly when returning to Earth and the presence of gravity.

“You walk around with a wide stance, and you are very wobbly for, I would say, maybe the first six hours, like really wobbly,” Mann said. “After that, that next day you’re still pretty cautious and then maybe two days later you are starting to get your balance back.”

Hundreds of Marshall Space Flight Center employees attended the event on Redstone Arsenal, Monday. Extra chairs were brought out, and it was still standing room only.

One moment that caught News 19’s eye, was one child of a MSFC employee who dressed in their own NASA suit, who got to take a picture with Astronaut Nicole Mann.

Image Credit: News 19.

We’re sure this is a day they won’t soon forget.