Can an MP land a Space Shuttle?

Well yes actually!  This one managed it last year. OK, I hadn’t been in space for a week, though the heat of Alabama was quite disorientating…

The return to Earth of the Atlantis this afternoon has reminded me of my visit to the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama http://www.ussrc.com/ last September.  I was in the US for the annual exchange of British Parliamentarians to the US Congress.  We spent 10 days in the States, four in Washington DC then a long weekend paired with a Congressman in his district and then a few days in a state capital – Lansing, Michigan in our case.

I was paired with Robert Aderholt, the Republican Representative for the Alabama 4th district, along with Jack Lopresti, my local colleague MP for Filton & Bradley Stoke.    When you think of the US space program you probably think of the launch pads at Cape Canaveral or mission control at Houston.   But the rockets and the shuttle itself were made at Huntsville.  We saw the retired Saturn 5 rockets and space shuttles, absolutely enormous at close quarters.

Jack and I were both invited to the extremely cramped cockpit of a shuttle, used for simulated landings.  Steady hands and concentration were needed for the descent through the atmosphere and down to the landing strip.  We both had a go. One Greater Bristol MP, to everyone’s astonishment including his own, managed a perfect landing.  And his colleague?  Well there wasn’t much left of the local forest!