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Orbiting astronaut offers views to House panel

Tamara Lytle Orlando Sentinel

WASHINGTON – As John Phillips testified before Congress on Tuesday, he had to work hard to keep from floating to the ceiling in his stocking feet.

Phillips, a NASA astronaut aboard the international space station, became the first person to testify before Congress from space, parrying questions about the view from 218 miles high and medical advances likely to come from his research.

Phillips spoke to the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics as he cruised over the California coast. He stood in a corner of the station in a flight suit, his image on a giant TV screen.

How do you stay standing up, one lawmaker asked? Phillips confessed his feet were tucked under a railing.

As he spoke, he released his grip and floated up. His white socks now on display, he braced himself as he hit the ceiling.

Behind him was what looked like a tall cabinet: his bed.

Phillips started his testimony by following a Navy tradition and ringing the gong on board to welcome his virtual visitors.

The view of blue oceans, tan deserts and green forests was “incredible,” he said. Seeing the Earth from such a vantage point makes you realize that it’s “a pretty small planet. … we need to conserve the resources we have.”

Phillips’ testimony came as Congress was debating a budget for NASA of more than $16 billion. In a tight budget year, some members of Congress want to move more money to other programs.

The hearing was also a far cry from more contentious sessions in the past that focused on the station’s cost overruns.

Phillips told lawmakers that science experiments on the space station could someday help earthlings.

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