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The 5 Coolest Things About Being an Astronaut

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Aside from being Johnny Depp, or living inside a fridge, being an astronaut is pretty much the coolest thing you can do.

But to do so takes years of training, dedication, and no little skill and nerve. Still, once you've donned the suit, you're doing the best job on earth (or, after about 10 minutes, space), leading man's exploration and deepening our knowledge of the Universe.

We went to the opening of the incredible new Atlantis Space Shuttle Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida, to speak to three former astronauts to find out the best aspects of their 9 to 5.

1. Seeing The Earth From Space

John McBride - Challenger Flight STS-41G (1984):

"The most memorable moment for me: 45 minutes after launch when you're on the other side of the earth - it takes an hour and a half to get round - we were over Australia and it was my job as pilot - after we're safe and everything - to get out of my seat, get to the back of the cockpit press all the buttons and make the payload bay doors open...I hadn't seen Earth from space, so I press the buttons and those doors open and I think "my God, we're over Australia - 45 minutes ago I was in Florida!"...and as the doors got wider I could see all the way from Perth to Sydney. I thought my heart was gonna jump out of my chest, I just thought "thank you God", it was just a magical moment."

2. Take Off and Landing

David Leestma - Challenger Flight STS-41G (1984), Columbia Flight STS-28 (1989), Atlantis Flight STS-45 (1992):

"Launch. Launching a rocket is just unbelievable. The simulators are good but it's nothing like riding on the real thing! And re-entry....gravity....gravity sucks - you have no idea how heavy you are til you get back! Once you start to re-enter, you're going home, so you want to get home, and then you start seeing out the window, and you see all this firey stuff going by and you know the bottom's burning up and you go "wow I hope everything works!"

3. A Sense of Perspective

Charles 'Sam' Gemar - Atlantis Flight STS-38 (1990), Discovery Flight STS-48 (1991), Columbia Flight STS-62 (1994):

"The one emotion that I was not prepared for was this overwhelming sense of insignificance. No matter how accomplished you think your life here is on earth, when placed against the background of space, it takes on a pretty small, insignificant meaning. I mean, you look at the this space craft here [the Atlantis Space Shuttle] - it's magnificent, what it means to America, what it means to the world, what it means to science and discover, to have been a part of that. I have dreams that I wake up from that seem more real than this - and I lived this!"

4. Getting to Work With Great People

JM: "Sally Ride was in my class, the first American woman in space, Guion Bluford, the first African-American...it really was a unique group of people...the class has gone on to great things, admirals, generals, Center directors and NASA administrators. I like to use the word blessed to have been included in such a great group of people."

5. Getting To Use Cool Machines

JM: "I was a navy pilot - I came to NASA from the navy and in my navy career I made 600 aerial landings - the beautiful part was my take-offs matched my landings! I got to fly the Phantom, it's my favourite...I love to brag, I've flown everything from the Goodyear blimp to the space shuttle, all the gliders, all the helicopters, all the fighters, the big heavies, the commercial airliners - what more could a guy ask for? I came from a coal mining town in West Virginia - don't think you can't do anything you want to do. Set your goals high and there's no reason you can't reach them."

14 nights staying at the Four Points Sheraton Cocoa Beach for two adults, including return Gatwick flights and car hire costs from £689 per person based on two sharing; for two adults and two children staying for 14 nights, including return flights and car hire costs from £2,349. To book visit www.virginholidays.co.uk or call 0844 557 4321

For more information about Florida’s Space Coast visit www.visitspacecoast.com and for more information about Kennedy Space Centre visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com

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