“Newsmaker: View from the Shuttle,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 69
Not many people have seen the world from quite the same perspective that Richard Searfoss has. Yet Brother Searfoss, pilot of the space shuttle Columbia, notes that “while seeing the earth from orbit reinforced what I already believed, it didn’t add anything to it. There’s no need for people to go into space to gain a testimony.”
Brother Searfoss continues, “There are no words to describe the beauty of the planet and the harmony of this place that was created for us. While we were very busy in orbit, I would snatch moments and just gaze out of the window and gather it all in emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The whole mission was professionally rewarding and spiritually humbling.”
Brother Searfoss, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, joined six others on the fourteen-day life science research mission, the longest shuttle orbit to date. As pilot, he was one of the primary crew members during the shuttle’s ascent and entry. While in space, he participated in numerous experiments, both as observer and subject. His duties also included earth observation (he took nearly five thousand photographs), engineering tests, and navigational exercises.
Crew members worked sixteen-hour days and had little free time. However, Brother Searfoss fit a few gravity-free somersaults into his evening schedule along with a regular exercise routine assigned by doctors. He also managed to spend a few minutes every day reading scriptures, usually after eating breakfast. “We were allowed to carry a few personal items,” Brother Searfoss explains. “Most of us carried pictures; I hung the picture of my wife, Julie, and my daughters, Megan and Elizabeth, over my mid-deck locker. I also had a few of my favorite scriptures printed on cards and took them up with me, too.
“There were reverent moments up there,” he continues, “moments when my spirit was open to more important things than just day-to-day concerns.”
When Brother Searfoss returned to earth 1 November 1993, he returned with a greater appreciation for the gospel and the plan of salvation. Recently called as counselor in his ward’s Young Men presidency, he’s been able to share that appreciation with the youth in the League City Ward, Friendswood Texas Stake. He notes that his appreciation for his family deepened as well. Brother Searfoss is already anticipating his future assignments. “I’m a career astronaut,” he notes. “I’m looking forward to being up there again.”