Ask most people what they were doing a few months ago and for the most part, you'd get a pretty standard answer. You wouldn't expect to hear "Oh I was basically dangling 140 miles above the Earth!" but that's the answer NEF got when they asked John Phillips. For John Phillips with his four of his colleagues: Lee Archambault, Tony Antonelli, Steve Swanson (pictured below with NEF's Michelle Medhat), and Joe Acaba formed part of the seven-man crew of Space Shuttle Discovery – STS 119 and on March 15, 2009 were blasted into space. That makes them in simple terms your real life 'spacemen'.
"You've got a 1kg allocation on a space flight in 2012, what would you do with this allocation? What thing - experiment or object - would you shoot into space and why?"
In answering the question, participants will have to devise and test their experiment or construct their object. The winner of MoonLink Yorkshire competition will see their object or experiment taken on board a future Shuttle Mission in 2012/13 and blasted into space.
So that was the question posed to the Science, Engineering and Technology community, but on 7 July 2009 at the Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton, Yorkshire the community posed a number of questions back to the astronauts.
Michelle kicked off Q & A proceedings with a thought-provoking question: "What were your first thoughts when you looked down at the Earth from space?"
John Phillips (pictured Right with Sa'ad Medhat), a veteran of three Space Missions (STS-110, STS-119 and ISI-11) said: "When I first went into space and looked down, I expected to see that the Earth was one nation, that I wouldn't see any boundaries; that we are all one people, but I was very surprised to see those initial expectations were completely wrong. I could see the diversity that makes up the earth, I could see very clearly the geo-political boundaries by the way in which different countries use their landmass, for example the huge areas of light making up towns and cities and the greener land masses signifying arable land use indicate the socio-economic boundaries of different nations, and their political strengths. It was quite a profound and eye-opening experience, and not one I could ever have imagined."
Other questions from the floor included: "Is it true that your height changes when you are in space?"
Martyn Chesters, from Yorkshire Forward Development Agency (backers of MoonLink Yorkshire) commented: "We hear all the brouhaha about the 2012 Olympics being the best vehicle to bring nations together, but don't you think the best kept secret for bringing nations is international space missions?"
Lee Archambault responded: "Absolutely, when we look at all the political issues and conflicts around the world, and then see how nations collaborate naturally on space missions, a lot can be said for the power of science, engineering and technology. For example, when the space shuttle flights were stopped in 2003 after the Columbia disaster the only way we could get to the space station was by hitching a lift on the Russian Soyuz rocket. You have to collaborate to make things happen. People say to me how do you cope being with in such tight, small spaces, don't you get on each others nerves. Of course we're only human, but you learn very quickly to put aside your differences. That's the great thing about being in space, you really do get to see the bigger picture!
More photos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/newengineering/sets/72157621608772973/