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Edinburgh astronaut visits University
Former student at Edinburgh Dr Piers Sellers speaks about his time as an astronaut
Emma Mowat
Wednesday, 21 November, 2012 | 09:00

University of Edinburgh alumnus Dr Piers Sellers returned to the institution to discuss his career as NASA astronaut on 15 November.

Dr Sellers noted that he “owes a lot” to Edinburgh University, where he studied for his first degree, before launching into a career as a scientist. He did not become an astronaut until being accepted onto a NASA programme at the age of 41.

He spoke of his experiences of take-off and landing: generating a fragmentation radius of at least 3 miles, 2,300 tonnes of explosives send the shuttle hammering uphill before reaching the velocity target, 8 minutes and 22 seconds after lift off.

Dr Sellers described some of the physical consequences of space travel, such as the initial expansion of your face in the first few days as fluid ascends from the lower body.

Such an unfortunate physical effect is however compensated with the acquisition of a couple of inches to your height, as the spinal cord stretches out. Travelling at a rate of 5 miles per second, the space shuttle hurtles around the world in a staggering 90 minutes, 10 times the speed of a concord.

Dr Sellers joked that the panoramic view of Earth as a majestic marble silently spinning 300 miles below makes the space station the ultimate location from which to decide your next holiday destination, stating: “you do appreciate that the world is a small place, it is extraordinary that we live on the outside of a rock, turning on a big ball of dirt.”

With a view of 1,000 miles in any direction, it is easy to understand the growth of the space travel industry.

For those tired of terrestrial getaways, there is no better way to escape. Dr Sellers said that he “would love to take everyone, I’m hoping it won’t just be something billionaires will be able to do.”

A video showed the crew members navigating the space cabin, indulging in impressive displays of gymnastics, curling, and human darts, free from the shackles of Earth’s forces.

Fun aside, Dr Sellers stressed that the ability to “work hard and be a team player” are the most essential assets of any astronaut. Lengths of 8 hours are spent on space walks, and Dr Sellers spoke of the trials of sleeping, “upon dozing off, you are abruptly awakened by the sensation of falling off a 10-storey building.”

Whilst Dr Sellers himself faces a more grounded existence, he set an optimistic forecast for space exploration saying that he’s “pretty sure we will find in the next 20 years earth-like planets, they won’t be too hot or too cold, they will have liquid oceans, clouds, rain, mountains […] who knows, there could even be a parallel universe.”

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