Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Astronaut Dan Inspires Cork Public at Space Studies Program Lecture

Crowds of excited space enthusiasts descended on Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) on Tuesday evening for the International Space University's annual Gerald D. Soffen Memorial Lecture. This year's lecture was given by former NASA astronaut and Patron of CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Dan Tani.

The annual lecture is one of the many highlights of the International Space University's (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) which is taking place this year at CIT from June 26 - August 25.

Dan Tani backdropped by a picture of Cork he took from space.
credit: ISU

ISU Chancellor and Apollo 11 astronaut Dr Buzz Aldrin was originally scheduled to deliver the Soffen Lecture but had to cancel his trip to Cork and Ireland last week due to medical advice. Tani shared in the audience's disappointment that Aldrin wasn't able to make it this time, but was quick to pay tribute to the second man to walk on the Moon's contributions to space exploration.

Beneath Cork Midsummer's 'Museum of the Moon,' Tani began his talk by describing his family background - many years of which involved his parents and siblings living in a Japanese internment camp in Utah during World War 2. After the war, his family then moved to St. Louis, Missouri and later to Philadelphia where Tani was born. 

Tani, who grew up idolising Major League Baseball players told the audience in a touching tribute that his mother was in fact his real hero after losing his father aged just four years old.

"Leaving my mother with two in college, two in high school and me, just a four year old, my mom's my hero and she should be everybody's hero. She was a great woman."

Looking back on his earliest childhood fascinations with space, Dan admitted to spending much of his time (when he wasn't playing baseball and pretending to be a cowboy) building and flying model rockets out of wood and paper.

"I loved the power of holding the button and making something go so fast and so high and then I started to imagine 'What is it like up there? What can you see?" so that sparked the exploration interest in me. I didn't have any sort of clue that thirty years later I'd get my picture in front of this rocket (space shuttle Endeavour) a couple of hours after my first landing in 2001. A lot of things happened in those thirty years!"
Tani speaking to a capacity crowd under the Museum of the Moon at CIT.
credit: Clare Keogh

However, Tani noted that the most important thing to happen to him in the years between building model rockets and actually flying a real one into space was something he described as "something few men have the nerve to do" - marrying a Cork woman. 

"Oh and I became an astronaut too!"

Tani first flew in space aboard shuttle Endeavour on STS-108 in 2001 on a twelve-day mission to the International Space Station. It was on this flight that he got to carry out his first of six career spacewalks. He later flew aboard Discovery on STS-120 in 2007 which delivered him to the orbiting laboratory for a long duration stay aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 16.

Astronaut Dan then narrated a video of a shuttle launch for the audience -

"It's really as cool as you think it is. Everything is shaking like crazy. You are both focused on your instruments and your procedures but also you've got half an eye out the window just taking in this incredible experience of being accelerated to orbital velocity. I recommend it."

While Tani's hobbies on the ground include playing golf, one of his favourite on-orbit activities was taking pictures of the Earth below.

"In four months I took about 16,000 pictures of the Earth."

Some of Tani's Tani's favourite spots on Earth to image from space included cities at night, glaciers, as well as the Australian outback. However, it was not until day 112 into a 120 day mission that Tani was finally able to get his first clear view of Ireland from space, before sharing a few tips on how to spot Cork from orbit.

"Along the coast you can spot this nub sticking out, and that's the Old Head of Kinsale. Then once you find the Old Head, you can find Kinsale, Cork Harbour and it was awesome for me to be able to see my second home from space and get some good pictures."

After describing the novelty of eating, sleeping and brushing your teeth in space, Tani also described the difficulty of going to the bathroom in microgravity -
credit: Clare Keogh

"If you ever want to appreciate gravity in your life, think about it in the bathroom, because without gravity everything floats! It's one of the big fears of first time fliers."

Tani turned the audience's attention to the future of human space travel -

"Some people think we should to go back to the Moon and use it as a place to learn how to live on a different terrestrial surface and the advantage is that it's just a few days away. Some people want to go to an asteroid and get samples.. but I would say that everybody wants to go to Mars so the real discussion point is what's the best path there..

It's exciting that we're involving so many countries, and I would hope that in a day or in a week or so, we could add Ireland to this list. Ireland could be a significant contributor to the space programme and I think just having ISU here this year will help do that."

Tani, who now teaches science and technology at the American School in Japan, closed by describing his latest mission - the mission to inspire the the next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts to reach for the stars, and help them realise that endless possibilities lie just around the corner if you're willing to work hard on your dreams!

Be sure to share your #SummerOfSpace and #SSP17 experiences online using #OurSpaceOurTime.

You can check out a full list of events taking place nationwide between June and August this year in the Summer of Space brochure which can be downloaded here or by visiting Blackrock Castle Observatory's website.

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

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