astronautU.S. Army Colonel and NASA astronaut Douglas Wheelock stopped by R-FH Tuesday morning after spending six months in outer space. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


There are certain aspects of sailing through outer space that Hollywood chooses, perhaps wisely, not to include in blockbuster portrayals of life in the ether.

There’s the blistering heat, sometimes reaching temperatures upwards of 350 degrees, which can really put a damper on a six-hour space walk; the food, which Colonel Douglas Wheelock says tastes more like heated plastic; and then there’s the absence of a bathing facility, which, if you’re like Wheelock, who recently returned from a six-month voyage in space, can make the return to Earth all that much sweeter.

“When they popped open the hatch, I said, ‘you guys smell really good,'” said Wheelock, who stopped in at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Tuesday to talk to students about his astral travels. “They said, ‘it’s called soap.'”

There are obvious perks to being an astronaut, though, Wheelock said.

After all, the closest most people get to experiencing a trip through the cosmos is vicariously, through movies or maybe a trip to the Hayden Planetarium. The view is great, he said, and even though hygiene takes a back seat, technology does not.

Wheelock, also known in the social media galaxy as @astro_wheels, gained media attention last week when he won a Shorty Award for best real-time photo for his tweets from space. And, in one small step for man, one dubious step for mankind, Astro Wheels became the first person to “check-in” from space on Foursquare.

The R-FH students ate up everything Wheelock had to say about his trips to space — he’s made two so far — and pelted him with questions.

What do you do for fun up there? (Read; ham radio; Friday night is movie night)

Do you eat Dippin’ Dots? (No, you get Meals Ready to Eat)

“Eating up there is not a pleasurable experience,” Wheelock, 50, said. “Up there it’s sort of eat to refuel. The stuff up there tastes like warm plastic.”

Do you get a bonus? (No)

“I’m a colonel in the Army, so you can go online and see what I make, and you don’t get any extra for going to space,” he said. “I think I’m overpaid for what I do, but when I’m on that rocket I think, ‘they don’t pay me enough.’ You don’t get extra, but you get one heck of a company car.”