Commander Susan Kilrain spent over 400 hours in space over 2 missions roughly 3 months apart. She recalled her first moments piloting the space shuttle alongside the senior pilot and mission-incharge.

‘Looking down at Earth from space the first time … it’s like every dream come true,’ says Susan. ‘Even though you’ve seen pictures of Earth from space, it’s not the same as being in space and looking at Earth. It was very rewarding.’

In that awe-inspiring moment, Susan recalls being tickled by a funny thought.

‘By the time we were able to get out of our seats and move around, we were actually flying back over the Kennedy Space Centre,’ she says. It was an hour and a half past the time of launch from NASA’s spaceport in Florida.

‘I was thinking: ‘I bet the crowd of people that came to see the launch was still trying to get out of the traffic! We had flown all the way around the world… and they had probably barely driven 2 km,’ says Susan laughing.

Much is now known about life in space. The feeling of weightless­ness, the hair floating around, astronauts gliding within their shuttle. Is there more?

‘You don’t have a shower. Brushing your teeth is different. Floating and eating your food is different,’ Susan recounts. ‘I’d say the thing that’s most different is sleeping. Because you are floating when you sleep.’

Given scenarios where excitement is certainly up to max, Susan found re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere the most ‘exciting’ and the ‘one thing you can’t train for’.

She recalls her first experience of the moment of re-entry. ‘I looked down and I thought ‘gosh, I must be at 2Gs!’ I felt very heavy, my helmet was very heavy on my head. I looked down at the G-metre and I was at .2Gs, just 2/10ths of a G. I thought ‘WOW! Boy am I going to be heavy when I actually get to 1G or 2G or 3Gs!’’ The impact of weight is in addition to the dizziness astronauts experience. ‘When you are in space, your vestibular system that helps you keep your balance, has had nothing to calibrate on, so it doesn’t know what’s up and what’s down, ‘ Susan explained. Now all of a sudden it kicks in, making every slight movement of the head result in spells of dizziness. ‘So, you’re trying to not move your head, which weighs a lot… and are trying to land this multi-milliondol­lar aircraft on the runway!’

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