on 26 August 1999
Colin Foale, a retired Royal Air Force Air Commodore, has captured the spirit of the space age in a remarkable new book centred on his son Michael's career as one of NASA's best-respected and experienced astronauts. No journalist working alone without Colin Foale's vast experience as a jet fighter pilot in the RAF, and his obvious love of aviation, could have written this book. It describes vividly Michael's brush with death (several times) during the spaceman's last flight aboard the Russian space station Mir in 1997, and the author describes brilliantly what it is like to work aboard an orbiting spacecraft which is itself falling apart after over a decade circling planet Earth. Even the most mundane tasks which Mike Foale and his Russian commander, Vasily Tsibliyev and engineer, Sasha Lazutkin, find themselves having to undertake spring to life on the pages of Colin Foale's excellent book. The trio narrowly avoid being killed when the incoming supply craft Progress smashes into the Mir station, and "Waystation to the Stars" tells in detail for the first time how the NASA astronaut and his cosmonaut partners battled to stay alive in the hostile environs of outer space. Michael Foale's story is even more extraordinary when you remember that the man who is today one of NASA's top astronauts is actually English by birth and education. And he is still only 42 years old. He was rejected for pilot training by the RAF at the age of 17, and was heartbroken because he wanted to follow his father into the air force. The RAF said he had bad eyesight, a decision which cost Mike Foale a place at the RAF College Cranwell, but paved the way for his subsequent life as a spaceman. Because his mother, Mary Foale, is an American, the young Mike Foale qualified for dual British-US citizenship and went off to Houston to work for McDonnell Douglas in the space industry after a brilliant academic career. At Queen's College,Cambridge, where he studied astrophysics, Mike Foale graduated with a doctorate and in 1987, at the age of 30, he was finally accepted for astronaut training - one of the youngest people ever selected to join the corps. Then in 1992 he made his first space flight on board the Shuttle, watched by his Dad, Mother Mary and sister Susan. On October 28 1999 Mike Foale will again streak into the skies aboard the American space shuttle - the fifth launch of his amazing life to date. "Waystation to the Stars" is a wonderful and unique tribute by a father to a son who is clearly loved and admired by his close family, all of whom know the pain of loss and that space exploration, whilst rewarding in many ways, carries with it dangers few of us on Earth will ever encounter. Michael Foale springs to life from the pages of this book, emerging as one of the most extraordinary young men of his time, and whose fate it will almost certainly be to take part in the first manned mission to Mars around the year 2010. The man whom the RAF said was not fit for pilot training now regularly flies a NASA jet aircraft between Houston and Cape Canaveral, has spent more time in space than most other astronauts, and is now in charge of the astronaut selection programme for NASA itself. And he will doubtless make several more trips to the International Space Station, currently under construction out there in Earth orbit, in the early part of the new Millenium. Writes Colin Foale of his emotions as he watched his son prepare for his flight to join Mir two years ago: "I felt deeply, personally proud of him....I was well aware of the occasional bout of butterflies he would feel as the thought of the launch swam into his mind, but he would show no sign of it. He would be glad when the mission was truly under way but then, unlike the others, he would remain on Mir for an extended stay in space, away from his loved ones, weightless, possibly lonely, for a hard-to-imagine four months. One hundred and twenty days, equivalent to ten continuous twelve-day shuttle missions, a whole earth season." Michael Foale's contribution to the space programme - particularly his performance aboard Mir - strengthened the Russians' willingness to share their future projects with their American counterparts. Foale learned to speak fluent Russian during his time at Star City outside Moscow preparing for his flight aboard Mir, and he astonished the Russians by his flexible approach to life aboard the crippled spacecraft, his good humour, and his sound common-sense. Foale also provided valuable practical advice in solving critical problems aboard Mir, for which his colleagues gave him high praise after their own return to Earth. "Waystation to the Stars" is a remarkable book about a remarkable young man, about whom, God willing, the world will read for many years to come as he takes to the skies in search of adventure and knowledge across the final frontier. As he and his brave companions from many countries probe deep space and evenutally make that historic first landing on the surface of a distant planet,they will carve for themselves places in history to equal those of Columbus, Drake, Scott of the Antarctic and Armstrong and Aldrin. Michael Foale realised his childhood dream of travelling in space in a way that he himself could hardly have imagined possible. This book should encourage every young boy or girl with a sense of adventure to join him in reaching for the stars.