Space Smells? | Barrhead Travel

05 April 2017


Last month, on March 2nd 2017, I was given the honour of being invited along to a press event for astronaut, Brian Duffy, the 268th person to go into space, who was visiting Glasgow. Brian Duffy is part of the Kennedy Space Center and talks to schools, with a aim of inticing the next generation of scientists and astronauts. This event was hosted by Barrhead Travel.

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get this post up, I've been struggling a lot with uni, but here we are!

The event was being hosted at the St Vincent street branch in Glasgow City Centre, and oh my god. I told my friend Morag that if I hadn't have been walking there with her, I probably would have walked right past the store - because it's not the red and blue branding that I expected. Instead, the shop had a more luxury feel to it, with the store front being in black and gold, and inside there were canopies set up with the travel advisors sitting inside. To get to the travel advisors, customers have to walk over a little bridge that goes over a "river" in the middle of the shop. It was all really cool, and I appreciated the little attentions to detail.

You might be wondering why Barrhead Travel would spend time organising a event like this. Do they have plans for future space travel? No. Kennedy Space Centre is a visitor attraction in Florida, which is a popular destination for the travel agency.

Upon arrival, the photographers for the event had already gotten themselves set up and were waiting on Brian arriving, who was still at the Oswald street store, giving his presentation there, first. I sat down on the sofa to wait for him, while Morag went to help set up snacks and I watched the photographers do their thaaaang.

Eventually Brian arrived and thus began one of the longest hours of my life - it was an endless stream of photographs and I was beginning to get a bit anxious because I had somewhere to be later that day (spoiler alert: it was a snowboarding lesson.) I decided that I could stay until 3.30pm (I'd arrived at 2pm) which would give me enough time to get sorted and listen to his talk. Finally, the photographs calmed down, Brian got a quick snack break and then his talk began.

He talked a little about the Kennedy Space center and what you can see there - there's a rocket garden with early capsule rockets! Then he talked a little about Space Shuttle Atlantis, which is "so much more than a display." Atlantis, you see, was his first mission. It holds a lot of memories for him, and he was a pilot. He talked about how the pilot and the commander were the ones who got windows; "I looked out of the windows, I floated by and looked at the planet and the universe."

Not too long into the press event, somebody asked him about Mars, and whether humans will ever get to set foot on the red planet. He answered that "I watched people walk on the moon, and they [the next generation] will see people walk on Mars." but, he mentioned, that it would take an international mission. With all space programmes around the globe to make this a reality. He also made a mention of the fact that there's only enough fuel on the spacecraft to last for 8 minutes in flight.

He was asked about whether floating was a surprise, to which he replied 'no'. However, he noted that the beauty of the Earth was "more than I [he] expected!" and I don't say I can blame him. Can you imagine the thoughts that must run through your mind when you gaze out the window and stare at our round, blue globe? It must be awe-inspiring. I can't imagine how tiny you must feel.

One of the other things he talked about was what he did when he was up there, and there was a little nod towards British astronaut Tim Peake who inspired us all with his photography while on the spacecraft. Brian said that it takes about 45 minutes to get from one side of the Earth, in darkness, to the other side, which is lit. He said that he studied the geography of the Earth to get an understanding of what was going on.

One of the last things he talked about before it was fully opened up to questions was about training he experienced and whether anything went wrong. He told the story of his last flight where he needed to get 2 pieces onto the International Space Station (ISS) which uses radar. However, the day before the space walk was due to take place, the radar broke and so they had to go without and do the first "radarless rendez-vous". Obviously, it was sucessful (but he stated he had the "worst headache afterwards!"). He went on to talk about how problems need to be dealt with up there, and that they need to question what ground will do - because they're heavily reliant on ground control. However, he said that the training definitely helped, and they were trained on what to do if they needed to do the space walk without radar. But, he said that the scenario was different than he expected.

Brian was very confident and didn't stutter at all when being asked questions. Somebody asked him if space had a smell, and that's when he mentioned that yes, it does. It smells metallic. (However that could just be due to all the metallic components on the space suit.) The smell, he said, was only after space walks. The rest of the time, it was odourless.

To close, he talked a bit more about what the Kennedy Space Center do. They "try to inspire students who want to study maths and science" and that "if they can't get to Kennedy Space Center, then we're bringing it to them". He finished by staying that "space travel really is international".

After that, I had to run off to catch my train home, but it brought a few thoughts into my head.

When I was in primary 7, I was lucky enough to go to an astronaut talk at my high school (well, the high school I was to start the following year.) During that talk, we heard from a pilot and a female engineer, then I was chosen to get a picture taken with them, and a group of other primary school students, which went into the local newspaper, and I still have a copy of this stuck to the wall in my room back home. That experience stayed with me, and it makes me question whether that pilot was also Brian. It would be crazy if that was! I might have to check next time I'm back again.

I digress. That experience has stayed with me, and it really did help to shape my interest in science. It's a fantastic programme, and it makes me excited to see what space travel will be like in the future. I can't imagine what the next generation of space scientists will be able to accomplish and all I hope for is to be around to see it, and if possible, to experience it. I don't remember a lot from the talk we had way back then, but it's exciting getting to say 'I met an astronaut!!'. Hearing Brian's talk makes me want to go to the Kennedy Space Center to see the rocket garden for myself, and experience the sheer scale of the rockets' sizes.

I want to thank Barrhead Travel for inviting me along to this event, and I also want to thank Brian and the folks at Kennedy Space Center for the work that they do, not just in science, but in simply talking about what they do. For valuing the education enough to travel across the pond to tell us what it's like, to inspire us and to help raise the next generation of space explorers.

Keep an eye out for the St Vincent street store, because there are regular presentations and events going on.

Thank you.

Have you ever been to the Kennedy Space Centre? Or have you ever met an astronaut?

Until next time, be excellent to each other.


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