Buzz Lightyear, astronauts and me

Xenia Rimimer with Jon McBride
Xenia Rimimer with Jon McBride

It’s amazing where a cup of tea can take you... to space and beyond.

My Buzz Lightyear moment came when I went to a birthday party in London.

It wasn’t your ordinary birthday, however – although there was cake.

It was a tea party to celebrate Florida’s 500 birthday – and it’s looking pretty good for its age.

You might not say the same about my Dad, who was my +1 for the day.

In the warm surroundings of Camellia’s Tea House, a quirky and cluttered shoppe in the quiet heights of Kingly Court, the conversation, while pleasant enough, didn’t flow quite as smoothly as the Earl Grey.

Until I noticed that over in the corner there was a tall, silver-haired man who seemed to be wearing an electric blue boiler suit.

An off-duty sparks perhaps? Or a plumber who prefers to drain pots of builders’ brew?

Pretty soon he ambled over and graciously introduced himself.

No, I hadn’t just met the local maintenance man. I was shaking hands with an astronaut. As you do.

Turns out that Captain Jon McBride, Shuttle skipper, Vietnam combat veteran and one of America’s top test pilots, was shuttling through London from Berlin on the way to Edinburgh.

We were soon enveloped in Capt. Jon’s fascinating conversation; until he let slip that he enjoyed a drop of Guinness – honeyed words to my dad.

And before you could say lift-off, we’d found space at the bar of a Carnaby Street Pub.

Capt. Jon, still in what turned out to be his NASA flying suit, slipped comfortably into the role of perfect pub companion and soon he was offering to reciprocate our ale and hearty English hospitality.

Come up and see me sometime, was the gist of the conversation. At the Space Station in Florida. What a blast!

Well, jet forward to a couple of weeks ago and there was Capt Jon again. This time standing, hand outstretched in greeting, at the Kennedy Space Centre.

He’d promised a personal, VIP tour of NASA’s base on earth – and he was as good as his word.

In fact, twice as good. For along with him came Charlie Walker, another astronaut – and the first civilian in space.

Soon cheerful Charlie had grabbed his camera and was taking happy snaps of the English earthlings and giving a lunchtime lecture about snacking among the stars.

A bus tour of the launch pads, complete with alligator ponds and blast shields, ended with a look at the next rocket being stripped of its protective coating before firing a communications satellite into orbit.

Then, Jon organised a close encounter of the most exclusive kind.

As well as being an astronaut, Jon is Vice President of the company that operates Kennedy on behalf of NASA and the US government.

And he is a senior figure in a team behind a $100 million project to put the final space shuttle Atlantis on show to the world.

At the moment it is hidden in a purpose-built, six-storey high-security building ready for unveiling at the end of June.

But with Jon handing out the hard hats there was no need for his MK guests to have to wait.

Escorted by security guards, we were to become the first visitors to glimpse the mighty space ship.

What’s more, Capt Jon is planning another trip to Britain in July and hopes to zoom into MK.

I won’t be able to Shuttle him to the stars but I will be able to whip him up a coffee in Starbucks.

I’ve had quite enough tea, thank you.