Hundreds of students are celebrating after getting their degrees from an Aberdeen university.
It was a day of excitement for students officially graduating from Robert Gordon University and Gray’s School of Art.
Scottish-born astronaut Dave Mackay, 62, was given an honorary Doctor of Technology degree celebrating his colourful career.
He ascended through the ranks of the RAF and also took on an inspiring expedition beyond our Earth’s atmosphere.
He said: “It’s a huge honour and I was surprised and delighted and humbled really.”
Born in Thurso, and raised in Helmsdale, he set his sights on becoming an astronaut when he won a book on space exploration at Sunday School.
This sparked a deep interest, which led him to study aeronautical engineering at The University of Glasgow. It was there that he joined the university air squadron and learned to fly. When he realised that the earliest astronauts were originally test pilots, he joined the RAF.
He said: “I flew the aircraft that I wanted to fly, which was the harrier. I was inspired by low level flying aircraft, that was really exciting to me, that’s what I wanted to do.
“I flew the harrier and loved it, but my big ambition was to become a test pilot. I was always interested in how things work and what makes a good airplane.”
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After being accepted as a test pilot, he feared he would not progress to become an astronaut. At the time there was no space programme in the UK so he went on to work as a commercial pilot with Virgin Atlantic instead.
With additional expereience as a pilot in command, he had the opportunity to apply for Virgin Galactic, the company’s space-exploration unit.
He said: “I flew the spaceship simulator in 2004 and I started working as a consultant for Virgin Galactic in 2005.”
As chief pilot for a commercial space-flight company, Dave flew the VSS Unity higher and faster than any of Virgin Galactic’s previous missions. He crossed NASA’s official boundary for space on February 22 2019.
He was the 569th person to do so and the first who was born in Scotland.
One of his career highlights was his first solo flight, as well as the first time he flew the harrier plane and his first flight as a captain for Virgin, and of course, his journey into space.
He said: “We train for many months to do this flight and you want to get as much good data as you possibly can and bring the vehicle and everyone back safely, that’s the primary job.
“So its kind of a relief that you haven’t let anyone down, you’ve done well and then over a period of the next few hours and days and weeks it kind of sinks in that actually this is something I wanted to do all my life. Suddenly I’ve achieved it and a great deal of satisfaction comes out of that.”
The astronaut said of his time in space: “It exceeded my expectations.
“The view up there is incredible and you’ve all seen pictures of the Earth and space. You know what it’s like and it’s very pretty, but the cameras really don’t capture what the eye can see.”
He added: “You get a real sense of the size of the Earth and the thinness of the atmosphere and the dense void of space.
“It gives you a different perspective I think on the Earth and what we’re doing there, and how much we need to look after it.”