Listen: Australian astronaut, Andy Thomas, chats to Hope 103.2 Breakfast about his fascinating career.
For decades, children and sci-fi enthusiasts have dreamed of becoming astronauts and travelling through outer space—but there’s a handful of Aussies who’ve actually made those dreams a reality.
One of them is Dr Andy Thomas. Born in Adelaide, Andy has travelled over 75 million miles in space, and circled the earth no less than 2500 times. He’s spent time living and working on the USSR’s Mir Space Station, where he watched the sun rise and set 16 times a day.
And while his career may sound unattainable to most, Andy told Hope 103.2 that with strong education, a dream and determination, even the most ambitious dreams can come true.
The Long Journey to Outer Space
During Hope Breakfast’s ‘O-Week’ interview series, Andy told Laura and Duncan the steps he took to becoming an astronaut.
After being inspired as a boy watching the Sputnik 1 orbit over his hometown, the journey really began when he stepped into Adelaide University, where he gained his Doctorate in Engineering. Then in 1986 he became a U.S. citizen, hoping to gain entry to NASA’s astronaut program. Six years later he was admitted to the NASA Corps; not yet an astronaut, but one step closer.
Andy’s first year in the NASA program was spent learning the craft of being an astronaut: the systems and protocols required for spending time in space.
Then, after years in a simulator, Andy was selected to join a crew on Space Shuttle Endeavour headed for the Mir space station. He spent four months there as ‘Flight Engineer 2’, before returning to Earth aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Describing His First Moment in Space
“It is very hard to describe that first moment in space,” Andy told Hope 103.2. “It is one of those moments that literally makes you gasp.
“I remember that first moment after lift-off, when I unstrapped from my seat and floated to one of the windows and looked out. I saw the earth below us and the oceans and the dark blackness of space. It was awe-inspiring and took my breath away.
“It’s the most wonderful experience that you can possibly have. There is nothing that you can do on or off the planet that match that quite matches launching into space on the shuttle.”
One might assume that arriving in space for the first time might feel surreal, but Andy had spent so many years preparing, that when it happened it felt quite natural. He almost felt as though he’d been there before.
“I didn’t feel fear about the process,” he said. “I felt more a sense of excitement about the ride I was about to undertake.”
Requirements for Being an Astronaut
An astronaut must be fit, but surprisingly the health requirements aren’t quite as rigorous as one might imagine. In fact anyone with reasonable health could pass the flight exam. The keys are to be free of chronic illness or communicable diseases.
You do need to be prepared, though, for living life in very unconventional ways under zero-gravity conditions.
Even the simple things have to be re-imagined. Simple processes like laundry become impossible, as large volumes of water can be very damaging. Instead, astronauts wear their clothes repeatedly until they’re simply too putrid to wear, and then jettison them into space.
“No matter what you want to do, don’t give up, and pursue your dreams.”
The most important trait to become an astronaut or something similar, is determination, according to Andy.
“If you want to be in an unusual or exciting profession you need dedication and don’t give up,” he said. “No matter what you want to do, don’t give up and pursue [your dreams], because it will lead to unimaginable opportunities.”
Listen to the whole interview in the audio player above, for more on commercial space flight and how to become an astronaut.
See the full O-Week interview series below.