IT’S not every day you come face-to-face with an astronaut.
So for children who visited Gunwharf Quays as part of the Portsmouth Festivities yesterday the experience was out of this world.
Among them were pupils from Haselworth Primary School in Stone Lane, Gosport, who met husband and wife astronauts Shannon Walker and Andrew Thomas.
A planetarium space dome was also set up so youngsters could see the stars and the solar system.
Teacher Emma Steele said: ‘We went in the planetarium – it was absolutely brilliant. They really enjoyed it.
‘They “visited” all the planets and saw the constellations and sun set and sun rise.
‘They also met the astronauts. It’s fantastic for them.’
Shannon Walker, who was selected as an astronaut in 2004, was on-hand to speak to visitors.
Last year, she spent six months on board the International Space Station and in 1998 her husband became the last astronaut to live on the Russian space station Mir.
Describing her passion for space travel, she said: ‘I lived on a space station last year for six months
‘Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to go to space. I was born and rased in Houston in Texas and I was about four when we first landed on the moon.
‘I was selected as an astronaut in 2004. It’s great up there. We have got a window where we can look out and see a panorama of the whole earth. It’s pretty amazing.’
Other attractions at Gunwharf included a chance to see how telescopes work and have a peek at people admiring the views from the Spinnaker Tower.
Visitors stopped to chat with scientists Dr Chaz Shapiro and PhD student Hana Schumacher from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation.
And staff from satellite giant EADs Astrium were also on-hand to talk about the first prototype of ExoMars rover Bridget, who is set to blast off into space in 2018.
The £500,000 rover will be able to ‘wheel walk,’ moving one wheel at a time.
It will also be able to move autonomously by plotting its own course through the tough, boulder-strewn terrain.