Stars of space come to town as the 2011 festivities take off

112161_SPACE_16/06/11''(l-r) Shannon Walker and Andrew Thomas, NASA astronauts. Pictured at Portsmouth Grammar School where they were guest speakers at Exploring Space. ' 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (112161-139)

112161_SPACE_16/06/11''(l-r) Shannon Walker and Andrew Thomas, NASA astronauts. Pictured at Portsmouth Grammar School where they were guest speakers at Exploring Space. ' 'Picture: Allan Hutchings (112161-139)

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FROM how you exercise in zero gravity, to whether we should be afraid of black holes, youngsters unravelled the mysteries of space with the help of scientists and real-life astronauts.

Yesterday the very first event of the Portsmouth Festivities 2011 launched when pupils from Portsmouth Grammar School got a visit from four space experts.

As reported in The News, husband and wife Nasa astronauts, Dr Andrew Thomas and Shannon Walker, touched down to tell people what it’s like to blast off and live life in orbit.

And also there were space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Portsmouth University astrophysicist Daniel Thomas, who gave presentations which took the young people to the very edge of the universe.

Using footage of his final mission into space in 2005, Dr Thomas described taking off for the stars in the space shuttle Discovery.

‘You wait for two hours to lift off,’ he said. ‘Then everything starts shaking and rattling as the engines fire, and the sky starts to get darker and darker, turning from blue to purple.

‘The rocket travels at 33,000 kilometres per hour and takes eight and a half minutes to escape earth’s gravity.’

His wife, who flew as the co-pilot in Russian Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station, also described the determination it took to become an astronaut.

‘You need to keep after your dreams,’ she said. ‘Because it took me 14 years and five attempts to get here.’

She added: ‘In space even simple things can be tricky, there is no running water to wash your hair, and we exercise using a treadmill built into the wall.’

Asked what is the strangest thing about being in space, Dr Thomas said: ‘Working in zero gravity is frustrating because you are forever losing things, especially pens. You need Velcro on your figures because if you drop things you’ll probably never see them again.’

Fielding a question about black holes, Daniel Thomas said: ‘The idea of black holes is scary, because it’s where our understanding of the universe ends, but they are too far away to be a worry.’

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