One of my main areas of interest is human spaceflight. It started out as a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, but whereas others with the same dream might sometimes give up on it, I have kept mine alive and let it grow and develop. It has guided my goals and ambitions, led me to attend space events and conferences, and to go to university to study engineering (as well as inspiring the name of my blog!). As part of this I have met several astronauts, and I have always found this to be an inspiring and encouraging experience.
Today the Writing 101 course asks me to write a list, so here’s a (slightly expanded) list of astronauts I’ve met:
- Joe Engle: Joe Engle was the first astronaut I met, and this happened to be at the first space event I ever went to. One day early in 2008 I typed the words “UK Space” into google and found the UK Space Conference, then being run by a group of volunteers led by Dave Wright and taking place at Charterhouse School in Surrey. I could only attend for one day due to family commitments but that night I found myself having dinner with Joe and former Johnson Space Centre Director, George Abbey. Engle was a veteran of two of the early shuttle missions including the second orbital test flight, and had commanded the prototype Enterprise in the Approach and Landing tests where the shuttle’s ability to land like an aeroplane was proven. It was here that I discovered the UK space community and was inspired to get involved. I thought to myself “if all I have to do is turn up and I end up having dinner with a man who commanded a spaceship called Enterprise, what could I achieve if I applied myself?”
- Richard Garriott: I met Richard Garriott at the UK Space Conference the following year. He had just completed a ten-day trip to the International Space Station, paying several tens of millions of dollars for the trip through private firm Space Adventures, training with the Russians and going up on their Soyuz spacecraft, which technically makes him a cosmonaut (NASA regards him as a ‘spaceflight participant’ rather than a true astronaut). Garriott recovered some of the cost of his spaceflight by carrying out commercial scientific research on the ISS, and later claimed that if the cost of trips like his could be reduced to the single-digit millions they could potentially break even and become profitable.
- Piers Sellers: Piers Sellers is a NASA astronaut who has flown on several shuttle missions. Several years ago, when I had just started at university, Piers gave a talk at the Royal Aeronautical Society following a shuttle mission to the International Space Station (STS-132 if I recall correctly, one of the last few to fly). He gave an entertaining and very humorous talk about his mission and I got to meet him briefly afterward. Unfortunately, while I had turned up in jeans and a jumper, the society—which is quite a formal place anyway—was holding a dinner in his honour after the talk and most of the other attendees were in black tie and half the family silver….
- Tim Peake: Tim was selected to join the ESA astronaut corps in 2009, amid much media fanfare (and some bemusement) as he is Britain’s first ‘official’ astronaut; though other Britons have flown before him, they were either part of a private programme or flew as US citizens through NASA. I have met Tim on several occasions, at the UK Space Conference in 2011, and at the Royal Aeronautical Society and British Interplanetary Society when he gave talks at those societies in 2013. After the BIS talk Tim, who has a taste for real ale, joined several members of the society (myself included) for a pint of something tasty for the evening.
- Brian Blessed: Brian has never been to space, but I’m including him on this list as he trained for a spaceflight with the Russians a few years ago and was originally scheduled to go on a short trip to the ISS. Exactly when or if this trip will take place is unclear however as it seems to have been at least postponed, perhaps cancelled. Nevertheless, Brian is an avid supporter of human space exploration and he gave a talk at the British Interplanetary Society last year about his life, his experiences and his cosmonaut training. He is every bit the larger-than-life character his on-screen and theatrical performances suggest, and it was a privilege to meet him at this event. He is not just the comedic character some of his performances suggest however; it is clear from meeting him that he is a deeply passionate, driven man.