The night was cold, and the sky was awash with stars. It’s 1969, and staring up at the Cleveland sky was 14-year-old Donald Alan Thomas. He was looking up into the void to spot the moon on which America’s Apollo 11 just landed – the world’s first-ever human contact with the moon. He recalls, “I remember going outside at 1am. I looked up at the moon and I just couldn’t believe that humans had landed on the moon. It really was a magical moment.”
That boy grew up to be a NASA astronaut, who ventured out into space four times. He states how role models John Glenn and Neil Armstrong played a key role in fuelling his dream of going to space. Now that he’s retired, he works at Towson University, and occasionally speaks to students around the world, motivate them.
He speaks in excitement about his experiences in space (one of them included a Discovery mission too), as he describes spotting the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, 16 sunrises and sunsets, and shooting stars. Don flew four missions amounting to 44 days in space. However, the 64-year-old then adds that, “I would say any astronaut who tells you they’re not afraid during launch, they’re either lying to you or they’re crazy. We had one space shuttle that blew up during launch, and one blew apart when it landed. You have nearly two million litres of explosive rocket fuel feeding our engines, a lot of shaking and vibration.”
On India’s own lunar mission launch, Chandrayaan 2, he offers insight, “India has been doing extremely well launching and building satellites, so it all comes down to budget and priorities. It is tough to summon money from the government that has to go for education, health, housing, and cultural things.”