Cayman a pretty sight from space

Astronaut captures images from 350 miles up

It’s not every Caribbean country that can boast having its flag flown from a shuttle orbiting the earth.

Astronaut Greg

Astronaut Greg presents the photo of the crew with the Cayman Islands flag in the background to Acting Leader of Government Business Juliana OConnor-Connolly.

But then again, the Cayman Islands aren’t just any Caribbean destination.

On June 2008 the Department of Tourism presented a Cayman Islands flag to Greg ‘Ray-J’ Johnson, NASA astronaut and pilot of the Atlantis Space Shuttle. During his mission in May 2009, the astronaut took the flag into space and photographed it in space while orbiting over the Cayman Islands.

He also took a wonderful shot of Grand Cayman while 350 miles up, using a 200mm telephoto camera lens.

Greg and his wife Nanette Faget, a ground engineer at NASA, fell in love with Grand Cayman after they visited in 2007. They loved it so much that they got married here in January 2008.

Cayman Flag in Space

At a press conference Monday morning at the Westin Casuarina Resort, Greg presented the flag and photographs of the Cayman Islands and Cayman Islands’ flag taken from space to the Acting Leader of Government Business Juliana O’Connor-Connolly.

Ms O’Connor-Connolly thanked the astronaut for daring to enlarge the boundaries of the Cayman Islands into outer space.

‘And each night that we now look into the skies and see the wonderful moon that has lit these beautiful islands for almost 2,000 years, we can think that because of this wonderful family and the impression that they got in coming to the Cayman Islands that they have, from a reciprocal perspective, put the Cayman Islands not only on the map but into outer space.’

Mr. Johnson said, ‘It’s truly an honour to be here, and the Cayman Islands are very special to my family and we hope to come back again.’

Life in Space

He gave a slideshow presentation of his time in space and talked about some of the various procedures they had to go through, how they ate, slept and showed some of the crew interviews from space.

He explained how they got the photo of the shuttle crew with the Cayman Islands’ flag while orbiting the earth. ‘This is more difficult to pull off than you might think. We got the flag out of the mid-deck locker and we put it up and framed it on the lockers and all these crew members are floating around.

‘Trying to get all the crew members to float at the right height is sort of a struggle. We had a camera on a mount that was solid and a push button and a timer and that’s how we got the picture of the Cayman flag.’

The shot of Grand Cayman was taken while going at five miles a second. ‘You’ve really got about five seconds to get the shot,’ he said.

One of the crew’s highlights during the trip was an on-orbit phone call with President Barack Obama in which he asked them had they seen if his White House lawn had been mowed yet.

Some of the most beautiful visions they had from space were the sunrise and sunsets they experienced every 90 minutes. ‘They were absolutely spectacular,’ he said.

The Mission

The purpose of the actual space mission was to repair the Hubble telescope

Many Hubble observations have led to breakthroughs in astrophysics such as accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe.

And following the mission they have improved the Hubble scope’s capabilities through to 2014 with a new battery and sensors to reach above and beyond what it did before.

He described the space telescope as being ‘about the size of a bus’ and said it had not been visited since 2002.

There were five back-to-back space walks to put in new equipment and upgrade the telescope.

The crew exercised during the mission to keep their strength up for the landing and during an interview while he was on an exercise bike, he joked that he was riding across Australia and the Pacific for about half an hour.

Greg explained that going to sleep was a simple as getting in a sleeping bag which was tethered to the wall and then floating off to sleep.

Asked if he was scared at any point during the mission, the astronaut said that he was really too busy to feel any fear. ‘I think at this point in my life I’m not scared of much, so this wasn’t scary to me.’

One of Greg’s regrets is that he had not studied his geography a little better for picking out different landmarks from space. One of his colleagues, who was on his fifth space trip, had no trouble seeing exactly what was where down on Earth.

And although he does not plan on going on another space mission again anytime soon, Greg and Nanette and their family are hoping to make a return visit to their earthly paradise – the Cayman Islands – again soon.

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