HAVING recovered from the media blitz and having a hand in one of South Africa's most celebrated science projects, UCT sports scientists Associate Professor Wayne Derman, Lara Keytel and Karen Sharwood hosted an informal presentation at the Sports Science Institute to talk about their roles in Mark Shuttleworth's acclaimed space odyssey, and to occasionally enthuse about the man who has become known as the First African in Space.
The three could not contain their enthusiasm about either taking part in the First African in Space mission or about Shuttleworth. The IT-billionaire-turned-cosmonaut took to space in April as a fully trained crewmember of the Russian space capsule Soyuz.
Derman, who as Shuttleworth's flight surgeon helped the latter prepare for and recover from the journey, spoke a little about the manifold tasks he was involved in while in Russia.
He also shed some light on Mark Shuttleworth the person. "I can't speak highly enough of Mark," enthused Derman, who, with his colleagues, shared lodgings and victuals with Shuttleworth for months.
Equally complimentary were Sharwood and Keytel, who ran a number of scientific experiments with Shuttleworth while also getting him in shape for his expedition (Sharwood eventually had to get him up at five in the morning for his workouts). "As a research subject, he was first-class – he was there 100%," extolled Keytel.
Both reflected on their first impressions of the Russian space station and base, noting the thorough yet minimalist approach to equipment and facilities. During their stay in Star City, they also worked hand in hand (albeit with the mediation of a team of translators) with scientists and support staff who, all of 40 years ago, helped Yuri Gagarin become the first person in space.
All three agree that among the mission's many memorable moments, the Soyuz's lift-off stands out. "You really feel like you are part of history," said Keytel.