Tennessean blasts off into space Thursday


MT. JULIET, Tenn. - Tomorrow is a big day for a man from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore will take on a new adventure that will begin on the launch pad in Kazakhstan, Russia.

In 2009, Atlantis roared into space with Wilmore in the pilot's seat on a mission to build, resupply and do research on the International Space Station.

In September Wilmore will again head into space, but this time it will be for a six-month stay on the ISS. "We launch on the 25th of September. We do a rendezvous, we go four orbits around the earth, and we're at the space station," Wilmore told us.

It is a long way from Mt. Juliet, but Wilmore still calls it home and keeps an eye on Tennessee from space. "Every time we were anywhere near going overhead Tennessee, I tried to take a break, come take a peek and see what I could see," he said.

Recently we spent the afternoon with Wilmore at Mt. Juliet High School, where a tribute is proudly displayed in honor of their former student. Barry Wilmore had a love for football and played it on the field here at Mt. Juliet. Former coach John Simms recalls Wilmore's passion for the game all the way back to junior high. "When he was playing football, I don't know that I ever coached a kid that had an enthusiasm for practice," he said. "Not just games, but practice."

"I was one of the rare ones. I loved to practice," Wilmore said. "I just loved everything about the sport."

It was just a few miles to Tennessee Tech University, where Barry Wilmore wanted to study engineering and continue his education. He also wanted to play football; he walked on, earned a scholarship, and is now in the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

After two months on the space station, Wilmore's duties will change. "I will be the commander of Expedition 42," he said. "We will be about four months together. March 12th, I think, is the scheduled date when my Russian crewmates and I will come back and land."

He will then be looking forward again to a return to Tennessee. 'There is nothing like the greenery and the rolling Tennessee hills," he said. "It is the most beautiful place on Earth."

Wilmore and two cosmonauts will liftoff Thursday afternoon at 4:25 Eastern time.

Since the end of NASA's shuttle program, U.S. astronauts ride on Russian rockets headed to the ISS.