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Space Shuttle Columbia

McCool: Navy commander in awe of space

William McCool enjoyed running, mountain biking, playing guitar and chess.
William McCool enjoyed running, mountain biking, playing guitar and chess.

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Having dreamed of flying since childhood, shuttle pilot William McCool, 41, logged more than 2,800 hours of flight experience as a Navy commander. CNN's Bruce Burkhardt reports.
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(CNN) -- A Navy commander with more than 2,800 hours of flight experience, astronaut William "Willie" McCool nevertheless was spellbound by his first trip into space, calling it "beyond imagination."

In his last national interview, given Wednesday night, McCool, 41, said he was using an "Exercycle" both to stay in shape and run experiments.

"I'll tell you, there's nothing better than listening to a good album and looking out the windows and watching the world go by while you pedal on the bike," McCool told National Public Radio's Tavis Smiley.

"There is so much more than what I ever expected," McCool said of the flight. "It's beyond imagination, until you actually get up and see it and experience it and feel it."

Getting used to no gravity

McCool said he was getting used to the feeling of zero-gravity, "but you can't really quite imagine it quite right until you get up and do it."

He said the crew tried to exercise a little every day to keep in shape "so that when we do return to Earth, we'll be able to actually walk off the orbiter." The ergometer, he said, was also part of a larger experiment to examine how a person's cardiovascular system adapts to space, what changes happen to the body in space, and how quickly the body reacts once back on earth.

Three science degrees to his credit

McCool, who was married, graduated second in a class of more than 1,000 at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983. He went on to achieve three science degrees, including degrees in computer science and aeronautical engineering.

The Navy commander made two deployments aboard the USS Coral Sea and had worked as a test pilot with the TA-4J Skyhawk and EA-6B Prowler. He was assigned to the USS Enterprise in 1996 when he learned of his NASA selection.


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