What’s the most surreal experience you have ever had? Curiously, for Anna Fisher – one of NASA’s first six female astronauts and famously the first mother to go into space – becoming godmother to the cruise ship Viking Orion sails away with the title.
Fisher is not what you may expect from a legendary, space-travelling trailblazer. She may have rocketed above the earth but her feet are firmly on the ground. “It’s so unexpected,” she told me on the ship’s maiden voyage this summer from Rome to Barcelona.
Fisher never expected to travel into space either. She only ever told one person about her dream of becoming an astronaut. Her schoolfriends had no idea, but she remembers clearly that the realisation came when she was 12 years old, in year seven.
Her father was in the military and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. On May 5, 1961, instead of taking part in PE that morning at school, she crowded around her friend’s crackling transistor radio listening to astronaut Alan Shepard’s first sub-orbital launch.
Shepard was the first American in space. A decade later he walked on the moon. “A female astronaut wasn’t a possibility at the time,” says Fisher, “but I wanted to do it.”
She retired from NASA in 2017 after a 39-year career during which she logged 192 spaceflight hours.
Her vision for retirement was “getting up in the morning, going to the gym to work out and doing a trip every two or three months”. Yet she has been on the road continuously since she was asked to be godmother of Viking Orion.
While she was busy winding up three decades of work at NASA, Fisher’s friends – Vicky Thomas, Sara Favazza and Hal Mickelson – coaxed her into celebrating her retirement with a Viking river cruise.
“Without my friends pushing me to take the time to get away and making all the arrangements, it probably would not have happened,” she smiles.
They decided to sail on Viking’s Rhine Getaway itinerary from Amsterdam to Basel in July 2017. The friends threw a retirement party for Fisher halfway through the serendipitous trip, which led to cruise director Nick Hale discovering she was on board and posting a picture on Facebook.
After the cruise, there followed a phone conversation with Karine Hagen, senior vice president of Viking and daughter of founder and chairman Torstein Hagen, who asked her if she would consider becoming a ship’s godmother.
There followed a whirlwind series of events – from the first cruise on previous new ship Viking Sun to Orion’s float-out ceremony in September – as well as sessions of brainstorming for the 930-passenger ship’s name.
“They wanted a space theme,” Fisher recalls. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, Orion is a constellation, very important in navigation pointing to the North Star, and my last job at NASA was working on the Orion capsule.’”
She was also considering Discovery, the name of the space shuttle that took her into space on November 8, 1984, when her daughter was nine months old.
Read the rest of the article in The Telegraph.