Astronaut credits Minnesota education, values before space quest

Mark Vande Hei graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret's High School and St. John’s University in Minnesota, and now NASA believes he has the stuff to make it for 6 months in space.

"I think I always thought about being an astronaut like being a superhero or being a professional football player. I thought it would be cool, but I dismissed it as something that was impossible,” Vande Hei told Fox 9’s Maury Glover via Skype.

After a career in the Army, Vande Hei went to work for NASA in mission control. He started training to be an astronaut six years ago, but this summer, he learned he'll head to the International Space Station with a couple of cosmonauts in 2017.

"I think it will be an amazing experience, just adapting to space, being able to look out the window anytime and see the Earth 240 miles below you,” he said.

After he was assigned, Vande Hei traveled to Russia for water survival training, but he's no stranger to extreme environments. He spent 9 days on the ocean floor as an aquanaut, which turned out to be good preparation for his trip to space. Vande Hei says he'll spend most of his time in orbit conducting scientific experiments, and even though he moved away from Minnesota years ago, his parents still live in Chanhassen, and he says his time in Minnesota helped him get to where he is.

"Just the strong sense of values I got through my education. How to treat other people with respect certainly has helped me get this job and will help me be successful with small group of people that's isolated from the rest of humanity,” he said.

Vande Hei says he's reached out to a few organizations, including St. John’s asking for mementos to bring with him to space.