Andy Thomas astronaut

April 16, 2015
Costa Rican-born US astronaut

Andy ThomasRight now I'm...

Leading a team of engineers and scientists who are helping to design the systems that we will use to go beyond the Earth orbit, out into deep space. Those systems require great engineering insights, they are very challenging, and it actually requires a lot of creative engineering and I enjoy doing that.

My work is important because...

What I'm doing, I hope, will lead humankind out into deep space. That is something that I think as a species we need to do and I think it's going to answer some profound questions and probably raise some amazing unfathomable questions as well.

The most amazing sight I've seen on Earth from space is...

The Aurora Australis. I was on the Mir space station, and one day we were orbiting south of Tasmania. I looked south from there over the Antarctic continent and saw the southern lights. There was this curtain of green and pink shimmering lights.

On other occasions, when I've been orbiting over the Earth on the dark side and I've looked down at night, I've seen meteors streaking into the atmosphere below, which is not where you're accustomed to seeing meteors. That was really amazing as well.

The weirdest thing that's ever happened to me in space is...

It's going to sound awfully trite, but being in zero gravity has a lot of advantages in terms of moving around and so on, but it comes at a price.

On my first flight I was always losing pens and pencils. Fortunately I had a lot of spares. But it was amazing how quickly you lose things. You let something go and it will float away and go behind a piece of equipment or somewhere and you won't find it again. It is so frustrating and of course if you're trying to work with tools and equipment and undoing nuts and bolts and screws and things, everything comes loose. You've got to have everything tied down or tethered or Velcro on it or you'll lose it.

My most memorable day was...

When I did the long flight on the Mir Space Station back in 1998. I went up to that space station with some trepidation, after all they'd had a fire on it, they'd had a collision, they'd had a depressurisation.

After I'd been there for a couple of weeks, I suddenly realised that this was going to be a good experience. I'd figured out how to get my basic needs met — where the food was, where the clothing was, how the potty worked — that's always very important. And I realised that I had found myself in a very unique place and I was going to have a unique and beneficial experience. That was a turning point in the whole spaceflight experience for me.

At school I...

Developed an interest in understanding science and engineering. I think I took on engineering because I wasn't any good at anything else, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn't until I spent some time at university that I started to see opportunities.

As for becoming an astronaut — for a kid growing up in Adelaide in the early 1970s/late 1960s what were the chances? Obviously none. I didn't consider that as a realistic prospect. It wasn't until later on when I'd developed credentials in the aerospace business that I realised that I could make that work.

One thing people don't know about my work is...

People always expect that you are actively flying and training for a flight. Well that's not true. You have a lot to contribute even when you are not flying. I'm using the expertise and knowledge that I developed through my flight experience to help design vehicles that will hopefully be for the next generation of astronauts and for missions that go beyond low Earth orbit.

My biggest achievement has been...

Getting selected as an astronaut. I had a dream as a young person when I was in my mid-to-late 20s, an almost unreachable dream, but I didn't give up on it. I knew the chances of bringing my dream to reality would be very slim, but I also knew that when I looked back on my life it would better to try and perhaps not succeed, than to not try at all.

I'm always being asked...

"Did this experience of space flight have an epiphany for you - was there some kind of religious experience for you?" Those reports are largely anecdotal from other astronauts. To me, the experience was having this almost untenable dream and making it a reality that gives me personal reward.

I would've liked to have...

Gone to the Moon. I was of a generation that was too young to be a part of Apollo and now too old to be part of the next generation which will ultimately go to the moon. I think that would have been the most extraordinary thing to do.

Andy Thomas Lecture
Andy Thomas Lecture
Portrait Story: Andy Thomas
Portrait Story: Andy Thomas
Dr Andy Thomas
Dr Andy Thomas
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