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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Astronaut profile: Michael Foale
By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online science reporter

After five space flights, the British-born astronaut Michael Foale, 46, has become a veteran of the US space programme.

Foale is one of the most experienced astronauts in Nasa history

He has spent over 178 days in space and has clocked up more than 18 hours of spacewalk time.

He lived on the Russian space station Mir for four-and-a-half months in 1997 and is about to command the International Space Station.

All this for a British schoolboy who dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut.

Michael Foale was born in England in the Lincolnshire market town of Louth in 1957.

After boarding school in Canterbury, he studied physics at Cambridge University, completing a degree in astrophysics in 1982.

He then moved to Houston, Texas, to work for the US space programme and was selected as an astronaut candidate by Nasa in 1987.

He is married and has two children.

Space drama

Foale already has five space flights under his belt. Highlights include a four-hour 39-minute spacewalk outside the Russian space station Mir in 1995.

Foale (left) on a space walk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope (Nasa)
Foale (left) on a space walk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope
In 1997, he spent 145 days living and working on Mir and narrowly escaped death when it was struck by a cargo ship.

He later told BBC News Online: "It weighed about seven tonnes so the impact was very noticeable. We heard a big thud and I remember having a severe adrenalin rush and thinking about how much longer do we have.

"I felt the fall of the air pressure in my ears and realised it was fairly severe but not so severe that we wouldn't have time to evacuate. It all started to fit together and a plan even started to form in all our minds that we would be ok - or we could be ok."

The crew returned to Earth safely and Foale's next space adventure came in 1999. He spent Christmas in orbit during a daring eight-day shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Destination: ISS

After three years on terra firma, the next challenge for Foale is to command the ISS. He will stay on the orbiting outpost for six months with Russian colleague Alexander Kaleri.

Kaleri will command the Soyuz that is taking them to the platform and act as flight engineer. The cosmonaut is well-used to living in space - he visited Mir three times and spent more than a year in orbit.

Mir, Nasa
Kaleri and Foale are both Mir veterans
Foale and Kaleri will spend about 200 days on the ISS. Only two crew members are allowed on board while the space shuttle fleet is grounded to limit the use of essential supplies such as water.

Routine maintenance, operations and scientific experiments will take up much of their time.

The men will also carry out a spacewalk to prepare for the launch next year of a new cargo ship, the European Space Agency's "Jules Verne" Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV).

Despite the relative mundane nature of the trip - construction work on the space station is on hold until shuttle flights resume - Foale says he is looking forward to it.

He told British newspaper, The Sunday Times: "I am an addict for space flight. I have seen so many things and I want to somehow touch them again."

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"Without regular visits to the space station, its orbit would decline"

Space crew tell of landing drama
04 May 03  |  Science/Nature


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