You're being called "the first Brit in space". That's quite a thing to have on your business card.
Yes, I'll board the International Space Station in November 2015. Helen Sharman was the first Brit in space back in '91, but they're calling me the first official Brit in space because I'm the first UK government astronaut, if you like. Helen's was a kind of private, commercial-sponsored flight. But yeah, it's a big deal!
Is the space station full of 90s tech?
Sort of. It's very weird [laughs]. I used to be a military test pilot so I'm trained to be extremely critical of cockpits and ergonomics. We strive for a very high level of performance in our military aircraft. I thought the space industry would be along the same lines, but the ISS first launched in 1998. Even then, the Russians used the same blueprints as for the Mir space station, so some of it goes back even further, to the late 70s. Then a Soviet space station is attached to an American one, with European and Japanese labs attached to that … Well, it's never going to be seamless. There's a lot of workarounds and old technology. On the Soyuz craft, the Russians have an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy, so there are huge oxygen valves that haven't been changed since the 60s.
Sounds a bit Doctor Who or slightly steampunk?
Yes! It's a funny, fascinating blend of old and new. And it'll stay that way because the ISS will be up there until 2024. New technology's constantly going on board. We've got highly advanced equipment like the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which looks for dark matter outside the space station, but an antiquated environment in other respects. There's iPads and Google Glasses, mixed with clunky, shoebox-sized units. But it all works and that's the beauty of it. We've managed to bring nations and technologies together.
Are you a gadget fiend back on earth?
My main passion is anything involving engines or speed – flying, motorbikes, scuba-diving, skiing – but I do love gadgets as well. Unfortunately with my two little boys, aged five and two, there's limited amount of hi-tech gadgetry I can afford to have in the house!
Are you an Apple addict?
Yes, my family's gone Apple crazy. Two years ago, we didn't have a single Apple device. Now we've got Macs, iPads and smart TVs. My iPhone is absolutely vital day to day. All our schedules are on there and if someone in Russia changes my timetable, it pops up on my phone.
What's your favourite app?
A great one called The Night Sky. You point your device at the sky and it'll show you what's out there at that time: planets, stars, it even tracks space stations and satellites.
What's your favourite gadget?
Watches are my weakness. My favourite – and most expensive – is a Space Discovery Watch. My European astronaut colleague Christer Fuglesang, who's Swedish, designed it for his mission on the Discovery Space Shuttle. It's beautifully engineered with two modules: one classic timepiece, then you pop that out and pop in a lightweight electronic module with G-force sensors, linear accelerators, countdown timers and everything you could possibly want for spaceflight. It's a pretty special watch. They only made 128.
Are you into 3D printers?
We're flying one to the ISS in August, so we can print out components, like plastic ducting for air ventilation pipes. We're starting out with fairly lo-tech materials but eventually we'll work up to tools and equipment. We try to prevent too much stuff having to be flown up there, so the flexibility of what you can produce with just one printer is incredible. Now companies like SpaceX are using 3D printing with titanium alloys to actually manufacture rocket parts.
What's your favourite computer game?
Tomahawk Apache on the Amstrad 64. That shows my age! I'd play it relentlessly when I was in 16, which was funny as I ended up spending 10 years of my life flying the real Apache and absolutely loving it.
Are mobiles banned at the dinner table?
It's an individual thing: technology is there for us to use as we see fit. Personally, when I'm with people, the mobile stays in the pocket with vibrate mode on. Live in the moment, that's my philosophy. But having said that, I spend a lot of my time isolated, away from friends and family, and that's why I love connectivity. When you're on a mission, the space agency set up a video conferencing suite in your home. I spent 12 days living under the ocean and was able to Facetime my family every day, which was incredible.
Your phone bill must be massive.
[Laughs] I've got no idea who pays the bill. But what I do know is that most astronauts try to call as many people as they can while they're in space, because it's just so cool to do it.
Do you use social media?
I really enjoy Twitter. It's a great medium for reaching out to people and useful to keep track of what's going on. For me, it's really important to share this whole experience. I'm in a privileged position, so see it as my responsibility to encourage people to get involved.
By: Michael Hogan
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