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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Mark Shuttleworth answered your questions
Mark Shuttleworth

  Click here to watch the forum from space.  

Mark Shuttleworth has answered your questions from the International Space Station in a live video interview for BBC World TV presented by Stephen Cole.

Space tourist Mark Shuttleworth has started his stay at the International Space Station. He is on a tour into space.

The second space tourist, who comes from South Africa and is a dotcom millionaire, has reportedly paid 14 m for his ticket into orbit.

Mark Shuttleworth hopes to use the 10-day mission to carry out Aids research.

In May 2001, American Dennis Tito started the age of space tourism. His flight to the International Space Station (ISS) was, however, just a joyride - he spent most of his time enjoying views from orbit and did not conduct any scientific studies.

Why did Mark Shuttleworth decide to go to space? What is life like on the ISS, and is his trip value for money?


Transcript


Stephen Cole:

Mark it's a pleasure to talk to you. We've had so many questions to BBC News Online. A lot of people are saying how very proud they are to see the first African in space. So congratulations to you have come in from all over the world but of course from all over Africa in particular.

What does it feel like to be the first African in space? Do you feel proud?


Mark Shuttleworth:

Well I know I wasn't selected as a representative of Africa but it's a great privilege and I'm very proud to carry the flag of an African country to space for the first time. I believe this is the first time that a citizen of an African country has flown to space. So yes, it's an incredible feeling - especially to see Africa from space for the first time. The commander has just sent me a little present from behind the camera.


Stephen Cole:

So you really have got your hand on the world there as you overlook it. Let's talk about the world of the earth - now that you're up in space and able to look at the earth, I'm wondering what thoughts go through your mind? That question comes from a viewer of BBC News Online - H. Khim Jee of Canada.


Mark Shuttleworth:

It's an incredible experience when the fairings of the Soyuz rocket blow off - it's very, very fast. Until that point in the launch sequence you're in darkness because the fairings cover all the windows of the Soyuz. And then all of a sudden instantaneously when you're out of the atmosphere the fairings blow off and if you crane your neck around you can see this incredible sight of the earth and the very thin atmosphere that protects us from outer space. There's a tremendous mix of emotions that rushes through your head at that stage - relief to be out of the atmosphere and safely on your way and just sheer joy at being up there and a sense of the magnificence of the earth.


Stephen Cole:

We've had lots of emails from people who say it was unfair of you to spend such a huge amount of money on a trip to space coming from a relatively poor country. Was it necessary to spend so much money when you could have given it to millions who are dying of hunger in Africa? That question comes from Fresher Chirwa in Zambia.


Mark Shuttleworth:

That's a very fair question and a perfectly valid observation. I think it's very important for Africa to embrace its future and to focus on its future and to create a sense of excitement for the people of Africa about their own futures. And so one of the things I hoped to do by fulfilling my own dream was to do it in a way that might reach out to particularly children and learners in Africa and show them that dreams can come true and that's a very powerful thought. The world changes far faster than we imagine it - the mere fact that I am sitting in the Russian segment of the international space station and if I move 30 metres that way I'll be in the American segment tells me that the world changes far faster than we imagine.

So I'm very optimistic about Africa - I think that it has a great future but to reach that future we will have to get every African inspired and dreaming and working towards those dreams. So perhaps this project can go some way towards that.


Stephen Cole:

So your message in short is to children of Africa - reach for the stars. What sort of scientific research are you carrying out up there?


Mark Shuttleworth:

We've got a number of experiments. The most challenging one which is a very, very difficult experiment and very ambitious, is a stem cell and embryology experiment from a South African university. We've got a glovebox that we've brought up on the Soyuz and in that we have some sheep and mice stem cells and embryos. That's the first time that those kinds of cells have flown to space. We've also got some proteins from the HIV virus crystallising behind panel 234 and that's being very carefully tended up here and we hope to get some good quality crystals which will help scientists understand those proteins and perhaps design drugs to counteract the virus.

We are also doing a lot of human physiology research - I am sort of a permanent human guinea pig. I'm not doing an Austin Powers impression - the electrodes are practically implanted over here.


Stephen Cole:

You say you're doing some scientific research - I know you're doing some research on Aids as well. What sort of impact is all that likely to have in South Africa?


Mark Shuttleworth:

The scientists whose proposals we accepted are very, very excited and they've worked incredibly hard with their Russian counterparts to make those experiments fly, so to speak.

The broader impact, I hope, will be an upsurge in the interest and excitement about science and technology in Africa and South Africa. Hopefully getting children to embrace science and mathematics at school level - creating a foundation for later life.


Stephen Cole:

What I'd like to do now is bring in your predecessor, Dennis Tito. He's on the line and he's got a question for you.


Dennis Tito:

Well congratulations Mark on a great flight. It sounds like you're quite busy - a lot busier than I was. Have you had a chance to photograph the earth in particular? Have you got any shots of Cape Town?


Mark Shuttleworth:

I haven't yet had a chance to see Cape Town. All of our over-passes have been at night. Hopefully in the last day or two of the flight we'll get some evening shots of Cape Town and hopefully we'll have good weather for that.

The earth is, as you know, just magnificent and it's been quite difficult not to get stuck every time I go past a window because the spectacle is breathtaking. I have had the chance to take some pictures but I doubt they'll be to your standard, sir. I may have to ask you for a couple of yours.


Stephen Cole:

Thanks to Dennis Tito for taking time in the middle of the American night to talk to Mark from California.

One question from a BBC IT programme called "Click Online" that you may have seen Mark. You've made your fortune out of new technologies on earth. Have you spotted any hi-tech commercial opportunities in space?


Mark Shuttleworth:

There's a fascinating mix of technology up here on station - some of it dating back to the 1960s and 1970s and some of it designed in the late 1990s.

As a technology guy, it's really fascinating to be up here and see how that all fits together. The geek in me can't help but want to rewire the place with the latest stuff. We'll just have to see what comes of that.


Stephen Cole:

We're going to move on now to some children's questions because we've had many, many of those from all over the world to BBC News Online. First of all, what is space food like? That question comes from Annie in London who is 13 years old.


Mark Shuttleworth:

Annie, you'd be very, comfortable up here. This morning for breakfast I had strawberry yoghurt and a granola bar with some orange juice - everything that you could imagine - from steak through sushi or shrimp cocktail - is available for the astronauts up there. We have food from both Russia - which tends to be very natural - without many preservatives and chemicals and then stuff from the United States which tends to be a little more diverse. So there's a great mix, a great balance and we've not shortage. In fact if we could turn the camera around now you'd see a bunch of my fellow cosmonauts munching down on a delicious meal.


Stephen Cole:

One other question from a 12 year-old: Do you have to clean your teeth in space?


Mark Shuttleworth:

Yes. I had to get used to swallowing.


Stephen Cole:

Another one - this one from India: How soon do you think it would be possible to go on routine flights to the moon and back? And when would it become an economical form of travel? That's from Pervin Khajotia in India.


Mark Shuttleworth:

It's great to see someone dreaming big. I think trips to the moon are a way away. But I think we're on the verge of seeing commercial access to lower orbit and that's certainly a great platform for reaching out to the planets and beyond. Hopefully that will all unfold over the next five to ten years.

As for an economic mode of transport from A to B, we'll to have to see some radical new technologies develop because at the moment we tend to build these very expensive rockets and then burn them up in the process. If you flew from London to New York and then burnt your 747 on the runway, tickets would be a little more expensive than they are today.


Stephen Cole:

Another question now from the Netherlands. How strict are the Russians in declaring someone psychologically and physically fit to fly in space? Do you need to be super-humanly fit or just healthy?


Mark Shuttleworth:

The cosmonauts behind the camera are all doing this just to prove that they do need to be super fit. I think one has to have a very strong will and a burning desire to fly and there are some medical conditions that would preclude you from a flight. But in general we've learnt that the human body adapts to space relatively easily. It's adapting back to earth after a long time in space that's more challenging. So that's where most of the research is going today.


Stephen Cole:

Another one now from South Africa. What's your next dream, or have you already achieved everything you want to do?


Mark Shuttleworth:

Far from it but the tough thing for me is figuring out which of the crazy plans I can hatch I'll do next. Once this is all over I'll need a bit of a holiday and then we'll see where the chips fall.

See also:

20 Apr 00 | Africa
12 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
06 Dec 01 | Africa
23 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
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