Astronauts touch down at NETPark

A team of international astronauts landed in the North East this week fresh from their latest orbital mission for NASA.

The North East Technology Park (NETPark) in County Durham was visited on Wednesday 30th June by members of the STS-132 shuttle crew, a team of astronauts who spent a week docked at the International Space Station in May. This mission was the last flight of the shuttle Atlantis before it was retired, and the crew now wants to offer the benefits of their experiences to school children around the world.

Kenneth Ham, commander of the STS-132 mission visited the Centre for Advanced Instrumentation, based at NETPark, with a group of local schoolchildren.

At NETPark Captain Ham officially opened of Phase 2 of the NETPark Incubator, a facility designed to provide technology companies with the tools, infrastructure and other support necessary to create financially stable, high-growth enterprises.

At the opening ceremony, Captain Ham commented that NETPark was a testament to County Durham’s commitment to innovation in business. He said: “This whole community has taken that concept very seriously – in economic development, in technological advances, and bringing in companies with new ideas to develop. And today, bringing these kids here to show them what is in their own back yard.”

The Centre for Advanced Instrumentation has its own links with international space exploration efforts, as it is involved in developing technology to be used on the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the famous Hubble telescope.

The crew visited County Durham courtesy of the County Durham Development Company and the North East Branch of the Institute of Physics (IOP). Both organisations feel that the astronauts’ visit is a great opportunity to promote the benefits of science, maths, and engineering to youngsters across the county.

The astronauts ran activities in seven different schools on Wednesday, with the aim of creating an inspiring link between scientific exploration and economic development.

Cllr Neil Foster, cabinet member for regeneration and economic development at Durham County Council, said:  “We were delighted to welcome the STS-132 shuttle crew to County Durham. To see them at NETPark emphasises the role science and technology has to play in the region’s future.

“ It’s a perfect example for North East students of how studying subjects such as physics can open up fantastic opportunities on their own doorstep, across the world, and as in this case – beyond.”

Catherine Johns, Head of Innovation at NETPark, said: “It’s great to have the latest facility at NETPark officially opened by the commander of a NASA shuttle mission. There’s no better way to emphasise the importance of science and technology development to the North East. The work carried out by companies at NETPark is not of benefit simply to this region, but to the rest of the world.”

Alasdair Wilson, Chair of the Institute of Physics North East Branch, said, “This is a really exciting opportunity for students in the North East to hear what it’s like to be in space and to appreciate how the study of physics has made mankind’s adventures in space possible.”

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