Sam Le Heron, of Ilam Primary School, asks :-

How far into space have people travelled?

Bill Pickering, a New Zealander from Havelock who rose to be Director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, responded (1993).

This is easy to answer, they have gone to the moon and back. That is a distance of nearly 400,000 kilometres each way, nearly 9 times around the world.

Eighteen men have been to the moon, but many more people have gone into orbit and flown around the world. Some of these have been in orbit for many months circling the world every hour and a half. Up to 1993, the shuttle spacecraft has carried 160 men and 20 women into orbit.

We have sent automatic spacecraft much further than the moon. These spacecraft report back to earth by radio and television, and they do not return to earth. In 1977 Voyager 2, a spacecraft built by my laboratory, was sent away to pass study several planets as it passed. In August 1989 it flew past its final target, the planet Neptune which is 15,000 times as far away as the moon. Voyager 2 sent back superb photographs of Neptune and one of its moons called Triton which is so cold that geysers spew ice particles.

[Bill Pickering died on the 16th of March 2004. Sir William Pickering Drive near Christchurch airport is named in his honour. He opened the Pickering/Rutherford/Havelock Memorial in March of 2003. There is a brief biography of him at www.rutherford.org.nz under Other Places - Havelock.]