tourmaline: (ISS)
[personal profile] tourmaline
Yesterday I travelled north to Durham, to attend an event at Durham County Hall - billed as An audience with NASA astronaut Colonel Ron Garan. Ron is one of the astronauts I met in 2008, a few months after their Space Shuttle mission. This time, we would hear about Ron's five-and-a-half months living in space, a time which included his performing an EVA (with Mike Fossum) and the final two space shuttle missions.

Following a bit of a taxi crisis (I was waiting in the wrong place and the first taxi left without me) I got to County Hall in good time, and managed to get a good seat inside the Council Chamber. I noticed there was a real mix of attendees - all ages, lots of children there with parents or teachers, and a group of Air Cadets in uniform, and some senior civic people, including the Mayor. Once we were all settled, Ron entered, accompanied by some organisers of the event. Despite tweeting last week that "I'll be the one in the astronaut suit" (ie his blue flying suit), Ron was wearing an ordinary suit, simple and smart.

The main part of the event was mostly what I'd expected - Ron started with a photo he'd taken from space of the region (northern England & southern Scotland) and talked about the ISS, the Soyuz, and the major events of his mission, including the EVA and the final shuttle missions. There were lots of questions at the end, mostly from the kids, and including the usual stuff that gets asked at these things - what's the food like in space, what's it like launching / landing / adjusting to gravity once back on Earth, and how do you go to the bathroom in space - I was glad he didn't go into detail on that question like I've heard other astronauts have done. To the question someone asked about readjusting to gravity after landing, he talked about how after his shuttle mission, they were getting changed out of their ACES suits and someone handed him a T-shirt which felt heavy, like a lead weight, and that walking required thinking about how to walk, ie put your left foot forward, now put your right foot forward.

One of the videos shown was this one, which I'd seen several times since it was first posted to Fragile Oasis, because it's so awesome. Most of the video is a time-lapse compilation of views of the Earth from space, featuring lots of aurorae and lightning. The choice of accompanying music is excellent, even if it's now firmly stuck in my head.

The event was billed to last 1 hour, and the questions finished promptly and one of the guys who'd accompanied Ron (I think he was from the STEM group involved, he looked like Father Dick Byrne from Father Ted) tried to bring everything to a close, so some official photographs could be taken. These done, lots of children (and adults) were milling around wanting an autograph or photo, so I decided to join them. I got my camera out and ready, and said to Ron "Could I have my photo taken with you?" and he replied "Of course", so I asked another audience member nearby if he could take the picture and handed him my camera. He got in position, Ron put his arm around my shoulder so I put my arm around his back and smiled. The photo took, I told Ron my Twitter alias and that I was planning to share the pic, and that yes, I was at the event in Bradford in 2008. I then returned the favour to my photographer and took a picture of him and his nephew with Ron.

This is the resulting photo of me with Ron Garan:
Me with Ron Garan

I'd booked a taxi for 9pm, and was waiting for it at the pick-up point outside the main entrance at around 8.45 when Ron and the organisers emerged. One went off to see where the car they were expecting was, while everyone else came down to the pavement. Naturally, I took the opportunity to speak to Ron again, suggesting that if he visited the UK again maybe he could bring Mike Fossum too? To which he replied why would he want to do that, suggesting with a smile that Mike Fossum was "trouble". Their car was approaching so I said "It's good to see you again, Ron, thank you for coming" and he thanked me back, before the whole group got into the car and were away into the Durham night. Thankfully I didn't have to wait too long for my taxi - it was actually early - and I was soon back at the hotel for some dinner and no expectation of getting much sleep following the excitement of the evening.

I did manage a half-decent night's sleep, and was up in good time this morning to breakfast well before walking to the station (Durham is a city built into the side of a very steep mountain, my troublesome knee is protesting still). On the train journey home, I was soon engrossed in my Kindle, the same book I'd begun on the outward journey - "Gabby". I'm now over halfway through the book, and it's an amazing read, much of it focuses on the shootings, their aftermath, and Gabby's ongoing recovery, but it also has lots of background about the Giffords family and their tyre business, and both Mark and Scott Kelly's careers and upbringing. It feels like a very dense book, with so much happening, but then that's the kind of lives that Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly have led. I won't give away any more details except to say there's been several points in the book so far where I've learned something very surprising I didn't know before about them.

It has been an eventful two days, meeting Ron Garan again and reading this book have made deep imprints on me. I'm sure the passing scenery from the train would have done so too, if I'd given it a chance and not been too engrossed in reading. But I'd like to revisit Durham sometime, it did look a very interesting place to explore - although not before I've found the walking boots of my (and my knee's) dreams.