(WBIR) - Capt. Butch Wilmore's resume is impressive -- 178 days in space, nearly 7,000 flight hours as a Navy pilot and four military deployments. And, once again, it's "Mission Accomplished" for Wilmore.
He recently returned from his second trip to the International Space Station.
"It was absolutely fantastic! If you're going to have the opportunity to spend six months in space, it should be the most professionally rewarding experience of your life."
But for a man who lives for high altitude and beyond, space wasn't always in the flight plan.
"It wasn't a dream or a goal anymore than any other kid when I was growing up."
In fact, he grew up a long way from Houston in Middle Tennessee.
"If I have any decent character it came from my roots in Tennessee -- just an attitude of friendly people everywhere you go, everyone you meet. That's what I grew up with and hopefully that's a little of me as well."
He discovered football early on.
"I loved football. I played it in high school and college at Tennessee Tech. The only problem with me playing football was that I was small, slow and weak and those are not good characteristics for football players. But I had a great deal of determination."
That strong determination took him to the Navy. And, while at test pilot training, he pursued a master's in aviation systems at the UT Space Institute.
As a Navy officer and pilot, he's completed dozens of combat missions. And, in 2000, NASA named him astronaut. He piloted the 31st shuttle flight to the International Space Station. And in September 2014, he launched again, taking command of the station in November.
Thanks to technology, 10News spoke with him.
"Beth, we have you loud and clear," said Wilmore. "Welcome to the International Space Station."
.We had a chance to talk to Capt. Wilmore live during his six-month mission in space.
"We're doing great. It's great to be talking to God's Country!"
Jokingly, he described the station as a five-star hotel.
"We've a free bed, free food and like I said it's 72 degrees around the clock."
And, of course, a room with a view.
"Obviously, the view is pretty incredible."
Surprisingly, he didn't really miss home.
"You kind of compartmentalize and flip that switch and that's what I was prepared to do. My family, we prepared them. I have two daughters -- 7 and 10 years old. We prepared them as well."
Space life included exercise...
"We worked out 2 1/2 hours a day every single day to keep ourselves in shape, to keep our muscles toned or the calcium from leaving our bones."
a great metabolism...
"I had to eat more than I wanted to maintain my weight, and I can't do that here on Earth."
and even Tennessee Football, thanks to the SEC Network.
"Go Vols! We've got big expectations for next year and we're excited."
In space, Wilmore was an early riser.
"I basically had the station to myself several hours every single morning."
And, he spent most of that time looking out the window. Wilmore couldn't believe his eyes Christmas morning.
"We were right over the top of Israel and the Holy Land on Christmas Day. What a great worshipful experience, if you will. It was very special."
Other big highlights...included four different space walks performing maintenance, running cables for new docking adapters and of course, re-entry.
"It's a wild ride. You're literally 17,000 miles per hour inside of a 3,000-degree fire ball. I mean, that's how you're returning from work, so to speak!"
The trip slowed a bit as he entered the atmosphere and parachutes opened.
"And, then you slam down and it feels like you just got hit in the back with a Mack truck literally, I kid you not. It's one of the hardest things I've ever felt in my life and then, you see the people scurrying over to open the hatch. It's just thrilling, absolutely thrilling, the whole thing!"
And, he's adjusted to life back on Earth seamlessly.
"Within three days, I didn't have any wobble or any feeling of that at all."
And, Wilmore was actually stronger! He isn't hanging up his space suit anytime soon. As always, he's ready whether it's take off or lift off.
"Sure! But I don't make those decisions. Other people make those decisions about who goes into space. However, it would be nice to command a launch vehicle one day."
Capt. Butch Wilmore. Born in Mount Juliet.
"It's home. It's rolling hills."
HomeGrown in Tennessee.