Long-Serving NASA Astronaut Mike Foale Retires
HOUSTON — Michael Foale, long NASA's most senior active astronaut, has retired from the space agency after three decades and a half-dozen spaceflights.
One of them — a 145-day flight to Russia's former Mir space station in 1997 — was interrupted by a harrowing collision with an out-of-control Progress cargo capsule.
During his 2003-04 command of the eighth expedition to the International Space Station, Foale became the first American to accumulate a year in space on his way to logging a pre-retirement total of 375 days.
The 56-year-old, British-born astrophysicist now plans to work on the development of an electric aircraft. Foale also serves as advisor to the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a nonprofit established by Los Angeles investor Dennis Tito earlier this year to send two explorers on a 500-day mission to Mars in early 2018. The flight would loop around the red planet with its crew and return to Earth.
Foale's retirement, announced Aug. 9, leaves NASA's active astronaut corps at 47, with eight new candidates selected in June to begin training this month.
He was drawn to the U.S. space program from his native England after earning a doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge in 1982. Employed initially by McDonnell Douglas to work on shuttle navigation, Foale joined NASA in 1983 as a payload officer in the Mission Control Center. He was accepted by NASA for astronaut training in 1987.
In 1997, Foal became the fifth of seven NASA astronauts assigned to staff Mir, as the U.S. and post-Cold War Russia explored long-running cooperation in human space exploration.
On June 25, a test of Russia's TORU manual docking system for the automated Progress supply ship went awry, and the freighter slammed into the station, breaching the Spektr science module that housed NASA experiments and served as Foale's sleeping quarters.
"It changed the whole condition of the station and the environment in which we worked," Foale noted in the aftermath. The three-man crew remained aboard, however. Foale later joined one of his Russian hosts on a spacewalk to survey the damage.
Prior to his retirement, Foale served as chief of the Soyuz branch of NASA's astronaut office, supporting Soyuz and ISS operations as well as new spacesuit development.