Multi Dove Award-winning, five-time GRAMMY® and AMA nominee, and Emmy Award winner Brandon Heath was recently honored to be one of ten handpicked guests of NASA Astronaut Terry Virts to witness the Expedition 42 Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft launch to the International Space Station. Heath joined Virts to aid in final preparations before the departure which took place on Nov. 24 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russia.
"It was truly an amazing 'once-in-a-lifetime' experience," says Heath. "As a fan of NASA, I've never felt more inside of what they do and how they operate - not only as a space agency, but as a family. It was truly an honor to have been given the opportunity to witness their world."
Each astronaut is permitted to invite ten people to witness the launch. Virts, a longtime friend and fan, extended the offer to Heath and made him an honorary guest to experience the traditional events that take place at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia leading up to a rocket launch.
While on base, Heath performed a special "living room" concert for Virts and fellow crewmate, Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency and their families. Virts and Crisoforetti joined via Skype while in quarantine completing their training for the trip. Heath was also able to visit and talk with Virts from behind the glass and provide words of encouragement for his journey.
In preparation for the launch, the trio of astronauts (Virts, Cristoforetti and Anton Shkaplerov) listened to Heath's "For The First Time" while in the cockpit of the spacecraft as Heath stood outside alongside Virts family to witness blast-off. While the personal demo track hasn't made it onto a Heath album recording yet, he gave special permission to the astronaut.
"While it was an exciting experience, it was also very emotional to realize the dangers these men and women face" admits Heath. "They are literally putting their lives on the line. It's overwhelming to know that I was able to witness firsthand the sacrifice these families make to give up one of their members for six months."
Virts and the crew's mission is to continue to support several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science currently underway and scheduled to take place aboard the orbiting laboratory. Virts, who is expected to conduct at least two spacewalks during his five-and-a-half-month mission, is scheduled to return to Earth in May 2015.
In continuous support, Heath will be part of Virts cheering section, sending encouragement through one-on-one video chat correspondence while he's positioned at the International Space Station. In addition, Heath also recently worked with Designer/Illustrator Matt Lehman and Virts to design a one-of-a kind patch that the next team of astronauts will wear on their NASA suits during the upcoming Expedition 43 mission.
Heath, who is gearing up for the Feb. 10 release of his sixth studio album, No Turning Back, is currently on the road with Steven Curtis Chapman and special guest Jillian Edwards for "JOY: The Christmas Tour," sharing songs from his 2014 Dove Award-winning album, Christmas Is Here.