The Story of David MacKay – The First Scotsman in Space31st Oct 2021
David MacKay, the First Scotsman in Space: A Highland Lad Has Lived His Dream
Finding out who will become the first Scotsman in space was just a matter of time because Scotland is an undeniable driver of the UK space industry. It takes second place after California in satellite manufacturing. Here, the first commercial launchers and space hubs are built. Plus, it is the motherland of Dave MacKay, one of the three British astronauts who made it into space. Today, David MacKay shares his fascinating story encouraging us to shoot for the stars.
First-Ever Scotsman in Space: From Highlands to Sky
David MacKay was born in 1957 in Helmsdale in the Scottish Highlands. When he was a young kid, he fell in love with the skies. There were numerous military aircraft flying above his home, and little Dave was fascinated with them. The world’s space race, started in the 1960s, opened a completely new world to him and predetermined his fate.
As was the case with many young men, Dave’s heart leaped when he watched the Apollo flight dreaming of a chance to go to space. However, RAF jet planes from Lossiemouth flying to and forth over his head appeared to be a more suitable opportunity.
When he was 16, pilot-to-be Dave MacKay wrote to a legendary Scottish test pilot Duncan Simpson asking how he could get the same job. He was stunned to receive a response with exhaustive recommendations.
Following this advice, the young man entered Glasgow University to study Aeronautical Engineering. He was lucky to have an aircraft squadron attached to his university that helped him log 123 hours of flight time. After graduating, he became Dave MacKay pilot and joined the RAF.
On one memorable day, when MacKay was already a combat pilot, he flew over his house in Helmsdale on one of the jet planes he worshiped as a child. Returning to that touching moment, he remembers his mother standing on the porch and waving her hand to him.
MacKay’s career in Royal Air Force Lossiemouth lasted for 16 years. He piloted numerous jets. In 1992, he became the Commanding Officer of the RAF’s Fast Jet Test Flight and was awarded a prestigious Air Force Cross.
Dave MacKay on His Way From Sky to Space
After leaving the RAF in 1995, David MacKay joined Virgin Atlantic founded by a British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. For the next 14 years, he piloted Boeing 747 and Airbus A340, logging 11,000 hours in total.
In 2009, pilot Dave MacKay was invited to work for Branson’s Virgin Galactic as a Chief Testing Pilot of the SpaceShip Two VSS Unity – a piloted horizontal launch system developed as a space shuttle.
On 22nd February 2019, he reached a 50-mile barrier that qualified David MacKay as a Virgin Galactic FAA astronaut. As soon as it happened, MacKay said: “Welcome to space, Scotland!” After he landed in the Mojave desert, there was a real Highland bagpiper and a glass of whisky waiting to welcome him back to earth.
When David MacKay Virgin Galactic pilot describes the flight, he underlines that the view was wider than he thought it would be. In fact, he saw so much that he could have almost been disoriented. The Earth’s curvature seemed enormous and allowed David to estimate its sizes for the first time. Space, according to him, was thick and flat black, while the Earth was illuminated brightly.
On 11th July 2021, Virgin Galactic launched its first suborbital commercial VSS Unity flight that took half an hour. David MacKay, aged 64, piloted the spacecraft and the crew, including Richard Branson. The crew spent four minutes in weightlessness. Giving a speech to the RAF before the launch, Dave claimed that they were sure that this kind of flight was accessible to anyone.
Who is the second? To be continued…
Today, Great Britain joins the space race eagerly. Scottish companies Orbex Space and Skyrora are getting the first British carrier rockets ready to launch. Meanwhile, the UK Space Agency arranged five sites for UK spaceport construction. One of them is located at Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, the native region of David MacKay Virgin Galactic astronaut.
Sutherland Spaceport can open for launches as soon as next year. This leads us to the major conclusion – David MacKay might have been the first Scotsman in space, but he won’t be the last one for sure.