Notes From June 2015 visit of NASA Astronaut Donald Thomas Lecture Events

Very excited and privileged to have hosted former NASA Astronaut Don Thomas for the day on Monday June 8th 2015.

Don Thomas is an astronaut, scientist, professional speaker, educator, and author of Orbit of Discovery about his STS-70 mission aboard space shuttle Discovery. A veteran of four flights, Don has spent 44 days in space. Don is helping to inform and excite the public about our future in space and preparing our next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers for their missions in the future.

The day began for us leaving home in Walsall at 5.00 AM to travel up to Manchester to pick up Don for a 7.00 AM start. Thank goodness Don is an early riser too.

Quick trip down the M6 (thankfully no early morning holdups) and into Aldridge school (a science college). Meet and greet with the staff and senior students, thank you to all and Rebekah Bridgman (Head of science) for the warm welcome.

Students had researched Don and his shuttle flights and put together some display boards that were positioned on the stage with the posters that the Year 7 students had designed.

After a brief introduction Don launched into his lecture ‘Living and Working in Space’ to more than 200 staff and students and captivated them with his presentation with many great images and a first-hand narrative.

A Q&A session followed with many excellent questions. This was Don’s first U.K. school lecture

Don presented Rebekah with a framed photo/patch montage. Three winners of the poster completion were then presented with their prizes, a signed Orbit of Discovery book and vouchers.

A professional photographer had been drafted in take some brilliant shots of Don and the prize winners.


  • Display boards for Don Thomas Astronaut visit.

  • Display boards for Don Thomas Astronaut visit.

  • Don Thomas animated presentation.

  • Don Thomas presents Head of Science Rebekah Bridgman with a photo/mission patch montage.

  • Don Thomas with prize winning students and Head of Science Rebekah Bridgman.

  • Before the lecture

  • As staff and students arrive

Off for a quick pit stop in Aldridge town centre for coffee at the local Costa and meeting with some of the family.

  • Don Thomas with daughter Nikki and grandson Logan.

  • Don Thomas with the staff at the Aldridge Costa Coffee.

On then to the town of Knighton just across the border in Wales. Destination the Knighton Church in Wales Primary school. We arrived a little later than planned. The children were very excited to meet an astronaut. On Don’s arrival in the school hall he was greeted with a song that the children had rehearsed well. Younger children in the audience had dressed up as space aliens, astronauts and a half dozen Buzz Lightyear’s. What do you call a group of Lightyear’s all in one place?

Don later remarked that it was slightly surreal looking out onto a multitude of green faces some with antennae staring back at him, a short Q&A session followed.

  • Don Thomas during the Q&A session

  • Don Thomas making a presentation to the Head teacher Mary Strong.

The ultimate signature on your cast.

Don then presented an abbreviated ‘Living and Working’ in Space presentation for the older children. Among some of earth views was a familiar shot of the Thames snaking through London. When Don asked if anyone knew where this was an image of he was somewhat surprised when just about every child chorused “its Eastenders”.

The older children had prepared a number of questions for him and with only a few days’ notice had put a lot of thought into them. Don finished the session with a futuristic Mars exploration image and went on to explain that astronauts in the shot could be any one of them (but not him, their parents or their teachers……… as they were already too old) this was greeted with loud laughter. The school visit was finished off with a framed photo/patch presentation to Mary Strong, head teacher of the school. Don was presented with a Welsh flag. Don has some Welsh ancestry and with the surname Thomas was warmly accepted as a native.


Another coffee/cake stop this time at the Tower House Gallery.


Off again, for a short trip up the hill to the Spaceguard Centre. The National Near Earth Objects Information Centre. The centre Director Jay Tate welcomed Don and gave him a mini tour of the facility (well worth a visit if you are in the area). They cater for larger groups too such as school visits. Check ahead for opening times and availability.


  • Former Astronaut Don Thomas with the Spaceguard centre Director Jay Tate.

Then we headed back to Manchester for dinner and a little relaxation, finally. A round trip of 400 miles but when you have circled the Earth nearly 700 times as Don has done, what’s a few hundred miles more.

Don had done all of the hard work. His message  throughout the day was a very positive one, ‘reach for the stars’,’ follow your dreams’, ‘work hard at school’ and if at first you don’t succeed, address the reason why and try again.

Don is a great public speaker full of enthusiasm and very inspiring, we witnessed him in action today and he can instantly cater for the target audience.

For more information on Don Thomas please visit his website.

  • Walsall Chronicle