Over the February half term 11 Abingdon School boys and 18 girls from St Helen's and St Katharine's School in Abingdon joined a group undertaking the Cosmonaut Space and Leadership Experience in Russia.
They were only the second British school group to have lived and worked at the Russian Space Agency's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow.
The students spent four nights living in the Kosmonaut Hostel within the secure Star City complex. Here they were under the constant guidance and instruction of a true expert in the field of space exploration, ex-NASA Astronaut Dr Mike Foale CBE. Mike was amongst the first NASA astronauts to live in Star City, where he trained to pilot the Soyuz space capsule and to live and work aboard the USSR's Mir (Peace) Space Station. The pupils were able to hear Mike’s first hand accounts of life in space and undertake training exercises under his guidance; an amazing opportunity to learn from one of the most experienced and versatile astronauts in any international, space exploration programme.
Jeremy Thomas, who accompanied the visit and who teaches Physics at Abingdon School said, "This was a truly unique experience for all the pupils. Having Mike Foale for the whole trip was a fantastic opportunity that has inspired most of them to consider future careers in space exploration."
The students thoroughly enjoyed the training, including Soyuz docking simulators and hands-on emergency evacuation and first aid procedures. The most popular activity was the survival training in the forest surrounding the complex, where top, military experts taught the students how to build shelters and signal fires to survive sub-zero temperatures until rescuers arrive.
Speaking about his experience, Abingdon School student, Rory Buchanan said, "I had breakfast with an astronaut, was given a tour of a space station by an astronaut and was trained to dock a Soyuz by an astronaut, truly unbelievable".
The students also had time to visit Moscow's iconic sights, including Red Square and the Kremlin. They all thoroughly enjoyed the trip and made a fantastic impression on their hosts who were genuinely impressed by their knowledge and enthusiasm. The best compliment came from Mike Foale, astronaut extraordinaire, who was overheard on the bus to the airport saying, “That was the most fun I have ever had at Star City!”