PEGGY Whitson, a former NASA Chief Astronaut and its most experienced female astronaut with 376 days in space, arrived at Prestwick airport today.
NASA VIP Peggy was at Prestwick to facilitate the return of Barry Wilmore, an astronaut who had just flown in from Kazakhstan – via a space station two hundred and fifty miles above the Earth.
Captain Wilmore, a former Navy test pilot, left for the space station in September as Commander of Expedition 42.
He spent six months carrying out research and maintenance accompanied by Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova.
Prestwick chiefs were keen to welcome the astronauts, saying their visit only underlined the Ayrshire airport’s suitability as a UK Spaceport.
Prestwick is one of three Scottish locations shortlisted alongside Campbeltown and Stornoway, and has launched a specialist “bid team” in partnership with South Ayrshire Council in the hope of winning the contract.
The UK Government hopes to have an operational Spaceport set up by 2018 to support the burgeoning space industry.
The facility will become a launch station for next-generation satellites and space instruments using ultra high-tech space launch vehicles.
It will also be an operating base for manned flights.
Chief Executive Ian Chochrane said: “We have an excellent and long-standing relationship with NASA.
“I believe our work with them plus the pre-eminent role the Prestwick Aerospace Cluster plays in the UK aerospace industry make us the leading Spaceport candidate.”
He added: “On their return from the Space Station, the American astronauts are flown back to the US by a Gulfstream jet which stops at Prestwick to refuel.
“Perhaps more importantly, here at Prestwick they get their first proper shower after six months in space”.