I started my working day photographing ceramics at Richard Winterton Auctioneers (you might have seen him on daytime telly – Bargain Hunt and David Dickinson’s Real Deal), ready for the next sale later in the month.
One of the early lots was this pair of Lorna Bailey limited edition ‘Celestial’ vases…. very much a space theme in evidence:
Later in the day I found Jon, our resident toy expert looking through some old newspapers, he’s here, hiding behind this one!
I left work early as Julie had got us both tickets to Lichfield’s Guild Hall to see a talk by retired NASA astronaut, Winston Scott.
It was a 5.30 opening for a 6.00pm start. We arrived just after the doors opened and I was surprised to see the back of a man in a blue jump-suit… the main man himself !
Considering Winston and his wife had only just flown into the UK and had been travelling most of the day, he had a big smile and seemed genuinely happy to meet and greet us (and everyone else) on our arrival. Julie and I had chance to talk with him before his presentation and I said I was a member of a local astronomy group. He asked about us and I told him about the new observatory. He didn’t just politely listen (as you might expect), but asked what sort of scope we were going to put in it, etc.
His talk lasted about half an hour. He told us about his childhood, education and how he finally joined the US Navy – becoming a fighter pilot, flying F14 Tomcats. As he explained for those that didn’t know their planes, that was the one made famous by Tom Cruise in TopGun – although he quipped that he had actually ‘flown’ the things! The picture below was taken after he had received notification that he was off to NASA for astronaut training…
He explained that he trained to become a helicopter pilot flying anti-submarine machines in the Vietnam war, before applying to NASA.
His talk continued about the training involved to become an astronaut and his two missions, which included early experiments for construction in space – what would become the ISS. One of the most important things he did (yet hadn’t practised for), was after the Shuttle had released a SPARTAN solar observation satellite that malfunctioned. It was decided that he (and his Japanese colleague) should try and manually rescue said satellite (because it was slowly spinning out of control, the Shuttle crew could not use the robotic arm). Instead the two astronauts strapped their feet into position and over a 3.5 hr EVA, Winston guided the Shuttle pilot ever closer to the satellite so the two astronauts could physically grab it and load it back into the Shuttle cargo bay!
The satellite in question:
A link to him talking about catching the satellite:
He then explained the re-entry and landing procedure for the unpowered Shuttle and the extraction of the crew. He made an interesting comment… that you never see the crew leave the Shuttle as that is always done in isolation, “because some don’t cope with the return to Earth too well”, which is unlike the footage we see when they are being pulled / carried out of the Soyuz craft… had never occurred to me, that fact.
After concluding the main talk, the floor was opened for a half hour question and answer session which covered questions relating to travel to Mars, his training, pre-flight feelings and expectations, the private sector and space tourism, the future direction of space travel… and even his Navy ‘Call-Sign’… no, it wasn’t Maverick.. or Ice Man!
At the end Julie and I both went up separately to thank him. J got chance to ask a few more questions (!), one was about languages (as you might expect from a modern languages teacher!!!) and the other was about how they decide which way is ‘up’ in space – he’s answering that question below… (it depends on the craft).
We left with a signed photograph having had an absolutely super evening. We couldn’t have met a nicer and more down to earth guy. If intelligent life ever visited Earth, he would make a great ‘First Contact’ ambassador !
Damian and Julie