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How I make it work…

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NASA Astronaut

Randy is a NASA Astronaut and Marine
Fighter Pilot, most recently serving as
Commander of the International Space
Station for Expedition 53 and a flight
engineer for Expedition 52. He is father to
Wyatt (13) and Abigail (9) and lives
in Houston, Texas

What inspired your love of space?
I was too young to be aware of the moon landings, but as a kid I always found science fiction really interesting. Whether it was movies or looking up at the night sky, that crescent fascinated me. I always knew I wanted to fly.

How does it feel when you first walk out into space?
You come out from the very bottom of the spacecraft and it is 400km straight down to earth. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first spacewalk or if it’s your fifth. Your body still feels the same thing. Imagine if you stood on the London eye and leant over before falling. You get that x 10, it’s a physical sensation and you have to rely on your training to overcome your natural instinct. It’s an incredible moment though, when you have that first glimpse of earth below.

What’s the most exhilarating and terrifying part of space travel?
Imagine riding a rocket with thousands and thousands of gallons of explosive rocket fuel, a controlled explosion, coming out of the exhaust. You have 8 to 9 minutes of the rocket engines burning, which is pretty exhilarating. I would say the most terrifying thing was giving myself a hair cut in space, keeping myself from floating off whilst holding the vacuum hose so hair also didn’t float off. Every time it was a terrifying experience. It turns out I did very well, and the last haircut was the only time I screwed up.

How do you train for a Spacewalk?
We train in the world’s largest swimming pool, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, Texas. It holds 6 million gallons of water, the equivalent to 9 Olympic swimming pools, in a 40 ft deep by 100 ft long pool. We wear exactly the same suits as we wear in space, but just underwater. We use the same tools, with the same pressure inside the suit and we move along the exact same paths and hand rails as we would on the Spacewalk. We practise the Spacewalk itself, so the only thing that’s new on the actual mission is when you look down from the space station and see earth below.

Describe your daily routine?
Every day as an astronaut is

“You come out of the very bottom of the spacecraft and it is 400km straight down to earth. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or fifth spacewalk. Your body feels the same thing.”

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different. I can have a day working on medical training, a day underwater training for the Spacewalk, or a day sitting in meetings talking about the design of the new Gateway space station. Typically, my wife or I will take the kids to school, she is the lead attorney for law here at NASA. Then one of us picks them up and helps with their homework

How do you prepare your children for heading off on a mission?
The last Spacewalk mission was assigned in August 2015, then I spent 2 years back and forth to Russia training for it. I was in Russia for 4/5 weeks at a time, then home for 4/5 weeks. My wife looked after the kids, so this helped prepare them. We also had a summer programme where we could bring our families over to Russia, so they could see where we were training and what we were doing. This helped them see the Spacewalk as a great Russian adventure, ahead of the 5-month mission in space.

What exites you next about space exploration?
We are at the next big great leap for mankind. 100 years’ ago, airplanes were just being built and now commercial aviation is as easy as hailing a taxi. Right now, in the US, Russia and Europe we have commercial companies looking to fly humans into space. It is completely revolutionary. In the near future, kids could be asked ‘do you want to go to Euro Disney or space for a holiday?’ It is likely we could also have humans on Mars in the 2030’s.

How do you balance work and family life?
Ask any parent and the answer would be the same, I quote Jerry Maguire: ‘you are hanging on by a very thin thread.’ I’m a human and a Dad like everyone else. I’m able to do what I do because of my wife. She is the most amazing woman I’ve ever met on and off the planet. She is in Russia this week and her work is the priority, it’s my turn to take care of the kids. Having a partner that is completely and utterly dependable makes it possible to take these careers where both of us are doing widely different things every day.

If you could take 3 items on a desert island what would they be?
My wife and 2 kids, a satellite phone, Sting’s yacht and a fully fuelled airplane.

If you could pass one piece of advice on to your children, what would it be? Life is short, you only get one chance at it. The only limits that you have are the ones you place on yourself.