Sunday, 9 April 2017

I feel the need, the need for speed...

Meeting Scott "Scooter" Altman, retired astronaut with Space Lectures, Pontefract. April 2017.

Another trip north to meet an astronaut and this one had me feeling a little nervous. Before Altman became an astronaut he was a naval fighter pilot and whilst on active service he was also Tom Cruise's stunt pilot for the film Top Gun. I only watched this for the first time recently and mentally I'd made the mistake of equating Altman with Tom Cruise's arrogant character in the film.

As soon as Altman started talking I knew I'd made a mistake - this was an articulate, funny and pretty humble man who had some great stories to tell. While he had flown into space four times this lecture concentrated on his military career and then his final mission in which he was the Commander for the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

As with all the best tales there are problems to overcome and some real cliffhanger moments and another member of the audience has a better memory for these things than me (I just get star struck!) and has written up a great account of the talk here. My main takeaway points were that necessity really is the mother of invention (who knew that a chisel, hammer and brute force work in space too!) and also that space is perhaps the way to maintain peace here on earth.  If Altman, a trained combat pilot, can work with and admire his former enemy then cooperation in orbit will hopefully smooth the way to cooperation everywhere.

We had a (sort of) personal connection to Altman's missions. Way back in 1998 we made our first trip to Florida in the hope of seeing STS-90 launch. We missed the launch by about 2 weeks (darn those slipping schedules!) but this would have been Altman's first mission.  To top this my sister and her husband saw STS-125 launch in 2009 - this was Altman's final mission.

STS 125 launch view from Jetty Park, Fl. Taken by my sister

Sadly we can't make the next event in June, where Space Lectures will be hosting Alexei Leonov and tickets are available - if you are at all interested in space history I recommend going. The team organise the events wonderfully and Leonov is a great speaker.

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