Astronauts take kids to infinity and beyond

Photo : Ian Robinson'Former NASA astronauts, Mike McCulley and Jay Honeycutt during their visit to the Balshaws Science Fayre at Wellington Park in Leyland, pictured with Balshaw pupil Ben Hoole, 13
Photo : Ian Robinson'Former NASA astronauts, Mike McCulley and Jay Honeycutt during their visit to the Balshaws Science Fayre at Wellington Park in Leyland, pictured with Balshaw pupil Ben Hoole, 13
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Two former NASA astronauts flew into Leyland - and talked zero gravity, conspiracy theories, and eating shrimp cocktail in space.

Mike McCulley, who clocked up more than 120 hours in space and Jay Honeycutt, former director of the Kennedy Space Centre in America, visited the town as part of Balshaw’s CE High School’s science studies.

They were grilled by youngsters who were eager to find out how they could make it into orbit.

Mike, who was pilot on the space shuttle Atlantis in the 1989 NASA STS-34 mission, travelled two million miles in total to spend just under five days in space.

He said: “I never get tired of firing up young kids to learn about space.

“When I first started out I said I was the luckiest man alive. There were 35 places on the space programme when I went into it and over 10,000 applications.”

Mike described to the excited crowd what it was like to live on the shuttle as he recalled his time in space.

He said: “We took lots of dehydrated foods up there. You take the water out of everything because you don’t want to carry it with you. Like mashed potatoes.

“We took a lot of that up there and you just add the eater and give it a squeeze. Shrimp cocktail was also really popular, as were tortilla chips because we didn’t eat bread. People always ask what we missed while we were up there but the truth is not a lot.

“I missed my family of course, but space is so exciting that you didn’t want to go to sleep in case you missed a second where you could be flying in zero gravity.”

The visit by the two experts came just after NASA ended their 30-year space shuttle programme with the grounding of Atlantis.

Jay said: “When Mike shot down that ladder and put on his dark space suit in the 80s he inherited hundreds of people who were involved in the space programme.

“With the financial crisis that we are all dealing with at the moment, that is a very expensive budget to maintain.”

Jay, who currently sits on the astronaut selection panel for missions into space, encouraged delighted youngsters to be fearless as he told them how he makes that all-important decision.

He said: “What we look for is the people who demonstrate that they can work in a special environment. And you have to be able to work in a team.

“I also look for people that have demonstrated that they are not afraid to work in an environment that has some risk. That doesn’t mean doing stupid things, but it means climbing mountains and flying aeroplanes.”

And brushing off questions about conspiracy theories that say the moon landing could have been faked, Jay said: “We were barely smart enough to do it, and we sure as hell weren’t smart enough to fake it.