Queen’s alumnus to blast off in March

Astronaut Drew Feustel prepares for six-month space mission

Astronaut Drew Feustel
Supplied by Megan Sumner

On March 15, Queen’s alum Drew Feustel will take off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Feustel will have a six-month mission on the International Space Station, where he’ll first serve as flight engineer with expedition 55. He’ll then return in August as the commander of expedition 56.

This isn’t the Queen’s grad first time leaving earth. With previous flights in 2009 and 2011, Feustel anticipates the moments before take-off on mission three will feel the same as they did in the past.

“In my mind, I’m always a bit fatalistic,” he said. “Because it’s my third flight, I know what to expect, although the launch from the Soyuz is a little different from the [American] shuttle.”

Now on his third mission, Feustel said he doesn’t necessarily fear of the unknown like he did in 2009. He knows what it’s like from launch to orbit."

Photo supplied by Megan Sumner

“I’m also thinking if something goes wrong, I am trained to respond to those scenarios. But, ultimately, there’s a possibility we might not recover the spacecraft and might not make it into space,” he said. “For better or worse, launch day is launch day and somebody’s going to decide to send a rocket into space and you’re going to be riding in it.”

The idea of becoming an astronaut is something every kid dreams of when they look at the stars. While this may ring true for Feustel, an experience while completing his PhD at Queen's set him on the path towards his first mission to space.

Back then, Feustel watched an episode of W5 that featured the Canadian Astronaut Class of 1992. Although he was waiting to begin his PhD in geological sciences at the time, the shows focus on Chris Hadfield and Julie Payette sparked a young Feustel’s interest.

The program had such an effect that when Feustel moved to Houston in 1997, he called Hadfield to ask about his work. That call began a relationship that helped him put together an application to the space program and eventually to be selected as an astronaut himself.

In 2009, Feustel flew on the space shuttle Atlantis for the final servicing mission of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. He returned to space in 2011 on the shuttle Endeavor’s final mission.

Feustel’s mission in March is slightly different than the past two he took part in. Whereas in te he mostly trained in the United States, Feustel will spend most of his time training in Russia to fly on the Soyuz spacecraft.

On top of taking Russian language classes on and off for the past 17 years, he has spent time communicating in broken English and Russian with the Soyuz commander.

“We say it’s only hard to learn Russian language after the first 10 years,” he said. “I’m not going to say it hasn’t been tough.”

He described the astronaut’s role in the space station as primarily ensuring the safety of its crew and experiments.

“As astronauts, we become the hands, eyes and ears of the scientists on the ground and our job is to operate their [experiments], to recover data and ensure that data gets back to Earth,” he said.  

But this this time will be different — Feustel will be living in space rather than visiting. “I can’t wait to get up there,” he said.

Feustel added he looks forward to observing Earth from space and wants to form clearer memories of his experiences on this mission than the shorter ones before. This longer time span will also allow him to reach out to audiences through social media, educating them about the mission.

“I hope that the work we do makes a difference, does inspire people to do great things with their lives, does inspire us to think of travel off our planet and living off our planet to ensure the continued existence of the human species.”

“That sounds a little idealistic or grandiose, but I think it’s important.”

Follow Feustel on Twitter and Instagram with @astro_feustel  

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