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High Flyers Drop in on Raglan…

He’s picked out the “awesome” beauty of our rugged west coast from space but astronaut Eric Boe reckons that’s no match for his Discovery shuttle crew coming here and experiencing Raglan on the ground.

Colonel Boe — one of five Nasa astronauts who visited Raglan last Thursday on a goodwill mission down under — said that on Discovery’s final mission in February the shuttle crew had seen how beautiful and “easily recognised” Raglan was from the stratosphere. He knew what he was looking for because he’d been to New Zealand two years ago to catch up with an American high school friend now living in Hamilton, and a highlight of that trip had been crossing the Raglan bar for a day’s fishing off the coast.

But the Discovery pilot said it was people who made the place, and for the crew to come here and experience that for themselves was extra special. They were “overwhelmed” by their welcome at Poihakena Marae, where they experienced a powhiri courtesy of 100-odd kohanga reo and Raglan Area School children. Youngsters seeking autographs crowded around the astronauts as they tucked into a characteristically Kiwi lunch that included cheerios and tomato sauce. Earlier, on their way in to Raglan, the crew had made a stopover at Te Uku School where there was also a big line-up of eagerly waiting children.

Later the crew took some time out from their public engagements and whiled away the afternoon on Raglan’s new luxury harbour cruise boat, the Wahinemoe.

Boat owner Charlie Young, whose own crew swapped souvenirs with the shuttle crew, reckons the astronauts were “blown away” by the beauty of Raglan from Whaingaroa Harbour. “And these are guys who have seen some amazing things (from space),” he observes.
Eric Boe and Discovery crew members including Commander Steve Lindsey, who has been to space five times in all, were in Raglan as part of a goodwill tour down under that doubled as a “morale-building” exercise to support victims of the devastating Christchurch earthquake.
Air NZ and a number of Hamilton businesses including regional tourism bodies contributed to the tour, which saw the astronauts make a “reach for the stars, anything’s possible” type presentation to a large number of city and suburban schools in the Waikato, Canterbury and also Auckland.

But Hamilton was the core destination as the crew’s New Zealand visit was instigated by Eric Boe’s old classmate Ree Varcoe, now general manager of the Hamilton Central Business Association. After his 2009 trip here Colonel Boe took Hamilton city’s flag home to the States, then with him earlier this year in February on Discovery’s final mission before being decommissioned.

He told the Chronicle he’d wanted to return the flag to its city, and on the strength of his memories just had to revisit Raglan too. Now the whole crew were hoping to make a return trip down under, and to bring their families with them.

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