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What’s it like being in space? Children’s Q&A with Pedro Duque
By thinkSPAIN Team Wed, Jan 2, 2019
ASTRONAUT-TURNED-SCIENCE minister Pedro Duque has donned his space suit in public again for the first time since 2003, when he went on his last mission into orbit.
Duque was visited in his offices by a group of children for a question-and-answer session – and, predictably, almost every one of their queries was about his life as an astronaut rather than his current role as head of universities and scientific research.
He wore his all-in-one European Space Agency (ESA) outfit and posed with a laser-beam, which thrilled the kids, and answered them patiently and with plenty of humour, say the adults with them.
Pedro Duque is known for being quiet, reserved and preferring a behind-the-scenes rather than a public-facing role, but was said to be very relaxed with the little ones and clearly enjoying himself.
His two trips to the International Space Station meant he was able to give clear explanations about what it felt like to be in zero gravity, how much fuel is used on a space voyage, and what his feelings were when he saw the Earth from outside it.
Speaking to a packed room of children, Duque said: “Seeing Earth from 220 kilometres above it is really amazing. You see the sun rise every hour and a half. But it’s at its most beautiful at night – when you can perfectly see all the lights of the cities, and thunder storms. It’s stunning.”
Duque also confirmed the popular claim that the massive tomato-growing greenhouses of the province of Almería can be seen from outer space.
“There’s nothing so big made by humans that you can see so well from up there,” he confirms.
Being in zero gravity is ‘a sensation like being in freefall’, the astronaut-minister told the children.
“It’s a lot like being in a lift with the cables cut – for the first few minutes, it’s frightening, but then you get through that. You get used to it,” he explained.
But before newcomers get used to it, they start off becoming very disoriented – “many get dizzy and even throw up,” says Duque – although they soon get comfortable again.
“You learn to move about and, after a few bumps at the start, you even forget how to walk,” he recalls.
Several of the kids asked how they could become a spaceman or spacewoman – and Duque assured them it did not involve any totally unique talents.
Just by taking a degree in one or more sciences at university, being able to speak English fluently and, if possible, a third language, are all the qualifications one needs to become an astronaut, says the minister.
“There are people of lots of nationalities at the International Space Station, so the more languages you can speak and understand, the better,” he clarifies.
“But the most important thing is to be very, very curious, and to have a great team spirit – there’s no room on a spaceship for churlish, boorish people,” he warned.
Asked whether he was likely to go into space again, the minister said the most likely manned mission to take place next would be to Mars, which he would ‘love to’ join but that he thinks he may now be ‘too old’.
“And the spaceships which will go to Mars haven’t been invented yet, so I think it’s more likely it’ll be you who goes rather than me, because we’ve still got a few years yet before we step onto the red planet,” Duque admitted.
After the session, which ended with numerous photos with the kids, Pedro Duque said he had found it all ‘very exciting’.
“It’s much nicer talking about things which inspire children than about other things,” he admitted.
“Although it’s hard going into space – it takes about six years to prepare for it – it’s harder still being a minister because it happens overnight, so that’s a bit more difficult,” Duque joked.
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