Piers Sellers, who flew on three space shuttle missions between 2002 and 2010, said he has recently been told by doctors he has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The NASA climate scientist’s revelation came during an emotional interview with the New York Times.
Sellers became a naturalised US citizen in 1991 so he could become an astronaut. He said he had hoped he would live to see the discovery of a solution to climate change.
His priority during the interview was to let people know how grateful he is for the experiences he’s had on this planet.
He wrote: “As an astronaut, I spacewalked 220 miles above the earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station I watched hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea through a brilliant green carpet of forest and gigantic nighttime thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator.
“From this Gods-eye view I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the Earth is, I’m hopeful for its future.”
He also spoke about when he sat down to draw up a bucket list, how he realised he wanted to “spend more time with the people I know and love and get back to my office as quickly as possible.”
Piers Sellers was born in Crowborough and educated at Tyttenhanger Lodge Pre-Prep school in Seaford, and then Cranbrook School, Kent. He joined the RAF in 1973 and trained to pilot gliders and powered aircraft. He then gained a BSc in ecological science from Edinburgh University and a PHd in biometeorology from the University of Leeds.
Piers Sellers and his wife left the UK in 1982, moving to the USA where he began his NASA career as a research meteorologist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
His work in the field of meteorology focused primarily on computer modelling of climate systems but he maintained his pilot skills, applied to become an astronaut in 1984 and was selected in 1996. He worked part-time in Moscow as a technical liaison on ISS computer software and logged more than 559 hours in space including 41 hours in spacewalks.
He was awarded the OBE for services to science in the 2011 New Year’s Honours List and helped improve safety measures brought in following the Columbia disaster in 2003.
He now works as NASA’s deputy director of Sciences and Exploration at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland.
Dr Sellers said that after he was given the diagnosis he told his family and friends and threw a large limited edition holiday party complete with butlers.
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