PRESTWICK Airport has welcomed senior NASA staff as the airport's chief executive said its long-standing relationship with the US space agency made it the leading candidate to be the UK's first spaceport.


Dan Hartman, NASA's Deputy Space Station Programme Manager, and Peggy Whitson, a former NASA Chief Astronaut, were at the Ayrshire base to facilitate the return of US astronaut Barry Wilmore, who had just arrived at Prestwick on a flight from Kazakhstan after spending six months on the Space Station two hundred and fifty miles above the Earth.

Captain Wilmore, a former Navy test pilot, left for the space station in September as Commander of Expedition 42 to carry out research and maintenance accompanied by Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova.

The mission included three spacewalks at the space station to help prepare for the arrival of "space taxis" - US commercial spacecraft that will allow crews to dock there in the future.

Iain Cochrane, chief executive of Prestwick Airport, said: "We have an excellent and long-standing relationship with NASA and they are delighted with the expert and professional service they receive here.

"We are an important link in the chain linking the USA and NASA with the Space Station. After the Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011, the US was left with no space transport capability for their astronauts.

"That meant the only way to access the International Space Station was via the Russian Soyuz rocket which launches from Kazakhstan.

"On their return from the Space Station, the American astronauts are flown back to the US by a Gulfstream jet which stops at Prestwick to refuel.

"Perhaps more importantly, here at Prestwick they get their first proper shower after six months in space."

He added: "I believe our work with NASA plus the pre-eminent role the Prestwick Aerospace Cluster plays in the UK aerospace industry make us the leading Spaceport candidate."

Prestwick is one of five locations shortlisted as a potential spaceport location, along with Campbeltown and Stornoway airports in Scotland, Newquay, and Llanbedr in Wales.

Kris Baillie, of the Prestwick Aviation Services' team, said: "During these stopovers, we provide NASA with exclusive use of our pilots lounge in our Executive House where their scientists and doctors carry out a number of physical and medical tests on the astronaut as part of their research programmes.

"It's vital these tests are carried out in Prestwick due to it being the first land stop for the astronaut after Kazakhstan and it also allows the scientists to record how the body reacts to being back on earth with the change in atmosphere and gravity.

"We also have European, Canadian and Japanese astronauts through on these flights and we ensure the service they all receive is fast, friendly and efficient."