Astronauts can’t wait to touch down in Portsmouth

HIGH FLYERS Astronauts Andrew Thomas and Shannon Walker will be visiting Portsmouth
HIGH FLYERS Astronauts Andrew Thomas and Shannon Walker will be visiting Portsmouth

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YOUNGSTERS will be told they can reach for the stars when a husband-and-wife astronaut team touch down in Portsmouth.

As part of this summer’s festivities Andrew Thomas and Shannon Walker will talk about what it feels like to blast off to the stars, walk in space, and live on a space station.

The high-flying couple said they can’t wait to arrive in Portsmouth next week and give audiences of all ages an insight into life in orbit.

Addressing pupils at Portsmouth Grammar School on Thursday June 16, they will launch an array of space-themed talks, concerts and workshops across the city.

Dr Thomas, 59, told The News he was looking forward to his first visit to Portsmouth.

‘This is one part of our duties I hugely enjoy,’ he said. ‘We try to get youngsters to understand that studying maths and science at school can take them to some amazing places.

‘When I was growing up in the 60s there was so much excitement for the space programme. I dreamed of being an astronaut but never thought a boy from Adelaide in Australia would get the chance.

‘It might not be new any more, but there is still a real excitement for space travel that is wonderful to see.’

He added that sometimes they encounter misunderstandings of what being an astronaut is really like – and not always from children.

‘Adults have asked how many planets I’ve been to, and what it’s like to live on the moon,’ he said. ‘Which is a bit surprising.’

In November his wife Dr Walker returned from spending six months on board the International Space Station, and in 1998 her husband became the last Nasa astronaut to live on the Russian space station, Mir.

In preparation he had to spend a year in Russia, learning the language, before remaining in space for more than 20 weeks.

‘It was a unique experience to say the least,’ he said. ‘We have done some incredible things on the missions I’ve flown; launched satellites, taken part in space walks, visited space stations, but I will always remember my very first time.

‘After launch I went to look out of the window, and I saw this amazing view of the Earth that will stay with me forever.’

Dr Thomas said that he believes in the future space travel will become far more available to members of the public.

He said: ‘Travelling in space will become something ordinary people can take part in as well, just like we all now use ships. It’s just a matter of time. Portsmouth is so important for the history of sea travel, and I think one day people will look back at the space shuttle in the same way we do now at the Mary Rose. When James Cook set sail his first voyage was the Apollo of its day.’