Parents of Twin Cities astronaut recount watching son's space launch

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Floating 240 miles above the planet on the International Space Station, Mark Vande Hei is exploring the effects of living in space on the human body.

But his journey into orbit has already had a lasting impact on his parents here on Earth.

"I pretty much had a stomachache for 10 days, so this is the first day that I don't feel sick. So, I'm kind of happy," said Vande Hei's mother, Mary, from his parents' home in Chanhassen.

Mary and Tom Vande Hei and 14 family members traveled to Russia to watch the launch of the Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur, Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in person last week.

They spent more than a week getting to know the people who will help their son survive his six-month expedition, but watching Mark leave the planet was a surreal experience.

"That hit the very core of me," said Tom Vande Hei, Mark's father. "Part of me that has never been touched. With the explosion, our son is on top of the explosion and it's loud and it's bright. You could feel the vibrations. You could feel the heat. I don't know what words I could use to describe it."

"My daughter and I pretty much wailed," said Mary. "There was no other way to express the feelings of fear, but also awe. We were really in awe of what he did."

Since docking on the space station, Mark Vande Hei has conducted scientific experiments and answered questions from students in Pine River, Minnesota, while floating in microgravity.

But his parents were the ones who were head over heels when he surprised them with a call from space over the weekend.

"He's feeling like a little kid learning how to walk because he is bouncing into different things as he's walking around," said Tom. "He hasn't got his weightless legs yet."

Orbiting the earth, Mark is getting a bird's eye view of the power and beauty of Mother Nature, but his parents are also gaining a new perspective on their oldest son and his once-in-a-lifetime adventure into the universe.

"When that rocket launched I was in awe," said Mary. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh. That's my baby boy.'"