Hazlegrove calling… astronaut, Nicholas Patrick

16 Jan 2013

On Monday 3 December, Years 3 to 8 from Hazlegrove had a Skype Video Link with Dr Nicholas Patrick, Astronaut. This link-up was the highlight of the Library’s ‘Space’ display, celebrating the achievements of Neil Armstrong, the Apollo missions and the Space Programme. The Theatre was packed with excited and noisy children. As our IT Manager, Mr Andrews, typed “Ready when you are” into the Skype window, the children fell silent, eager with anticipation. The atmosphere in the theatre was electric. Dr Patrick was greeted with rapturous applause and thrilled cheering.
The British-born Space Shuttle astronaut, dressed in his NASA overalls, gave a fascinating talk. In spellbound silence, the children listened intently as he described his background and how he became an astronaut. Educated in England, he became a US citizen when he moved to the US to follow his dream of becoming an astronaut. Like many of today’s space travellers, he is a scientist, engineer and pilot. He told the children that he had been a full-time astronaut until June 2012, when the Space Shuttle program officially ended.
He explained that one of the most important factors in being a good astronaut was being a good member of a team. He explained that when travelling around the world 200 miles high and at 17,500 mph in the International Space Station (ISS), you need to be a good passenger and not suffer from travel sickness. On his two trips to space to work on the ISS, he performed a number of spacewalks and he showed the children a picture taken of him holding onto a piece of robotic arm high above the Earth’s surface.
The children were delighted when Dr Patrick showed them his cat. He explained that although many animals had been into space, he would only consider taking his cat if the claws were trimmed beforehand.
Dr Patrick told the children of the challenges of living in space, moving around, washing, sleeping and eating. He showed the children sachets of space food, and explained how you must use specially adapted drinks containers with one-way straws to prevent your drink from floating around the Space Shuttle.
At the conclusion of his presentation, the children who had won the Space Competitions were allowed to ask Dr Patrick a question each.
Ben F – Space Poetry Competition Winner
‘Why is the universe expanding?’ Dr Patrick explained about the theory of the Big Bang, and how the weak force of gravity is insufficient to stop the resultant expansion.
Hector McA – Art Competition Winner
What does it feel like space-walking?’ Dr Patrick said that it was very comfortable, much more so than in training where they practise in a swimming pool. Although the pool gives the effect of weightlessness, you are not really weightless, and things within the spacesuit dig in and chafe. Once in space, however, you are truly weightless, and then it’s wonderful.
Alessandra La T – Art Competition Winner
Is it easy to get to sleep in space?’ Dr Patrick said it was very relaxing, once you had tied your sleeping bag to something to stop from floating away. But the real problem was making yourself go to sleep. With the Earth 200 miles beneath you, and rotating once every ninety minutes, there was so much to see that sleep seemed like a waste. But to be able to function properly, sleep is important, and eye shades and ear plugs meant that despite the great views, sleep eventually comes.
William B – Drama Competition Winner
‘What scared you most about being in space?’ Dr Patrick said his chief worry was about forgetting something, or making a big mistake. His training and remaining always focused meant that he was able to overcome this worry and work with the team.
Callum McF – Science Competition Winner
‘Which astronaut most inspired you growing up?’ Dr Patrick said Neil Armstrong, whom he had been privileged to meet on a number of occasions, was truly inspirational. A quiet man, he flew on Gemini and Apollo missions. Dr Patrick thought him an engineer rather than a typical fighter pilot, although Armstrong did fly in Korea for the US Navy. A very humble man, and a great pilot.
George T – Science Competition Winner
‘Would you ever want to meet an alien?’ Dr Patrick said he would have loved to have met an alien. He wondered whether, if the alien was less clever than humans, we’d feel sorry for it. Or, if the alien was cleverer than us, would we start to worry? But he felt that there probably was alien life out there somewhere, but that they haven’t visited us yet.
Oscar S – Drama Competition Winner
‘What’s the best thing about being an astronaut?’ Dr Patrick said undoubtedly getting to fly a Shuttle and see the Earth from the ISS. But there were many other great things, too. These included flying T38 jets for NASA, and talking to youngsters like those at Hazlegrove.
There was time for a few other questions to be asked from the audience:
Florence wanted to know whether we would ever go back to the Moon. Dr Patrick hoped so, but he thought it more likely the next manned mission would be to Mars.
Adam asked if Dr Patrick was scared of heights. Dr Patrick said that NASA don’t test astronauts for ‘vertigo’ but do check if they’re claustrophobic.
Finn asked Dr Patrick how many planets he had seen. Dr Patrick said from space he had seen Mars, Saturn, the Moon, and lots of stars. But since you can see these things from Earth, he spent most of his time looking down at our planet.
Ollie wanted to know if Dr Patrick got to ‘enjoy’ himself in space. Dr Patrick said there were so many jobs to do in the ISS, but that all of them were great fun and he enjoyed all aspects of being in space.
With this last question, the presentation was brought to a close, and when the waving and enthusiastic clapping had died down to a mere thunderous level, the children left the theatre to return to Earth – thoroughly inspired.