Britain’s most experienced astronaut is hanging up his spacesuit and retiring from NASA. Michael Foale, 56, who was born in Louth, Lincs, flew on six space missions, accumulating 374 days in space.
Only two NASA astronauts have spent more time in orbit, though several Russians have greater records. Foale, who went to school in Canterbury, and then university in Cambridge, had to become a US citizen to achieve his aim of becoming an astronaut.
He has carried out four space walks and was also caught up in the biggest emergency in space since Apollo 13’s near disaster on the way to the Moon.
He was on board Russia’s former space station Mir in 1997 when an unmanned Progress cargo ship collided with it and set it spinning out of control.
Foale and his crewmates had to evacuate to the safety of a “lifeboat” spacecraft in case oxygen was lost. He then took measurements of the positions of stars to help mission controllers return Mir to a stable orbit.
Later he carried out a six-hour spacewalk to inspect damage to the space station caused by the collision.
Foale also flew on a daring Shuttle mission in 1999 to repair the famous Hubble Space Telescope. He spent more than eight hours on a spacewalk helping replace the telescope’s computer and a guidance sensor.
His final spaceflight was from October, 2003, to April, 2004, when he spent over 194 days in space and took command of the International Space Station.
Foale, who is married with two children, lives near NASA’s mission control in Houston, Texas. He has left NASA to help develop an electric aircraft, in a bid to reduce the cost of flying by 90 per cent, as part of his passion for Green Aviation.
Of his 26-year career, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said: “We salute Mike and his contributions to NASA as an accomplished member of the astronaut corps.
“Starting with his first flight, shuttle mission STS-45, when we flew together in 1992, Mike has worked tirelessly to support NASA’s quest to explore the unknown. I know Mike will go on to do more great things as he continues to support the aerospace industry in his new endeavor.”
Another UK-born astronaut, Nick Patrick, of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire, retired without fanfare from NASA on June last year. He flew on two Shuttle missions.