The astronaut in question was the awesome Col. Chris Hadfield, who was visiting as part of his book tour, promoting his book, 'You are Here', at an event organised by the ever-lovely Topping and Co. When I booked the ticket, I had mistakenly thought the event was in the evening, so when I realised it was actually mid-morning, I had to hurriedly arrange a day off, as I did not want to miss this!
It was a very interesting event.
Col. Hadfield began by talking about how difficult it is to safely leave Earth, and then explained that, as a 9 year old boy, he watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they walked on the Moon, and, as he said "realised that impossible things can happen", and decided that, like them, he wanted to do the impossible thing and to go into space.
He explained that, 26 years later, after years of hard work (which involved moving from Air Cadets, to the Air Force, two or three degree, time as a test pilot, and then astronaut training) he finally got to climb into the Space Shuttle and leave Earth.
He came across as being (still) awed and excited about the experience. And his enthusiasm is infectious.
He described how complex flying a rocket ship is, and how many people are involved (It had not occurred to me, that every launch involves clearing areas of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, not to mention emergency airstrips across the world.
He compared space travel to other forms of exploration, referencing the Franklin Expedition, and Shackleton, among others, and giving the opinion that, at present, going to Mars would be the equivalent of the Franklin Expedition - people would die, because we don't yet know enough, but that we will get there, just as we went from losing expeditions to having people living permanently in Antarctica.
Col Hadfield also commented about the perspective going into space gives you - for instance, seeing Jaguar's recent ads boasting of vehicles with 500 horsepower, and thinking "500? Huh. We had 80 million horsepower...!"
And spoke about visiting the Great Wall of China and being told, (as every one is) that you can see the Great Wall of China from space. No,he told us. You can't. He looked *really* hard. But you can see the M25! and he showed us the pictures to prove it!)
It was fascinating. After the main talk, Commander Hadfield answered questions, which included his speaking about having 16 sunrises a day, of the 'perpetual delight' of seeing Earth from Space, and of the fact that the ISS runs on UK time ('Coordinated Universal Time', which, as he pointed out, may come as a surprise to the rest of the Universe, who haven't been consulted...!)
Finally, he got his guitar (which is not the same one as he played on the ISS - that one is still up there!) and sang to us.
Which was a lot of fun.
Sadly, I didn't have time to stay after the event to meet him, as the queue was very long, and I would have been pretty near the back, but I am very glad that I went. He is a very impressive and inspiring man.