Jackie Russell, of Pell City, and her family were packing for a trip to welcome her cousin back to earth.
Russell’s cousin, Dr. Robert Satcher Jr., will return to earth aboard the space shuttle Atlantis Friday, completing an 11-day mission that rocketed him to the International Space Station, which orbits the earth.
“We’re very proud of him and happy for him,” said Russell, who works as a magistrate and court specialist for the St. Clair County Circuit Clerk’s Office in Pell City. “It’s such a joy to see him do this.”
She said it has been a life-long dream of her cousin to travel into outer space. Monday, Nov. 16, Satcher fulfilled his dream when he and five other astronauts boarded the space shuttle Atlantis and rocketed into orbit.
“It was amazing,” Russell said of the takeoff. “I never experienced anything like that in my life.”
Russell and about 200 family and friends, supporters of Satcher, traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to see her cousin off on the historic flight.
Satcher was the first orthopedic surgeon to travel into space.
She said her cousin entered Harvard University at the age of 16, where he earned his first degree.
“He’s got about six degrees now,” Russell said. “I think his latest degree came from MIT.”
She said family and friends had a special reception at the Kennedy Space Center the Saturday night before the scheduled launch.
Russell said her cousin was in quarantine, and family and friends were unable to see him before the launch. He was able to talk to everyone at the reception when he called on a cell phone and the phone was placed against a speaker.
She said the successful launch is etched into her mind for the rest of her life.
Russell said guests were positioned about three miles from the actual space shuttle, and spectators could see the shuttle rise before actually hearing the rockets.
“It was so amazing,” she said. “You saw white smoke, the shuttle rise, and then we heard the noise from the engines. It happened so fast.”
Russell said spectators had to lean back to watch the rocket go up into the sky, towards outer space.
“Your hands just automatically went into the air,” she said. “Then people started chanting, ‘Go, Bobby, Go, Bobby.’ Goose bumps just went up my spine. The excitement was electrifying.”
Russell said the space shuttle crew took thousands of pounds of replacement parts to the International Space Station and were bringing back old parts from the space station.
The crew is also bringing back one astronaut, Astronaut Nicole Stott, who lived at the space station for three months.
“Six went up and seven are coming back,” Russell said.
She said Satcher made two space walks while he was at the International Space Station.
Russell said her cousin is somewhat shy, very reserved and is just a good down-to-earth person.
“He’s such a humble person,” she said. “You would never know he had all those degrees.”
Russell said she will return to Cape Canaveral Friday to welcome her cousin back home.
“I have no idea what his schedule is when he returns,” she said. “We probably won’t see him until Saturday.”
But Satcher’s family and friends, including Russell, will welcome him home.
“To set a goal, and to accomplish a goal like this is just amazing,” Russell said. “Yes, we’re all so very proud of him.”