Bye Reddit! This was entertaining (for me); thanks for your questions!

Hi Reddit! I am an American astronaut; a veteran of three Space Shuttle missions and one International Space Station mission. I performed ten spacewalks so far in my career, presently holding the second longest all-time EVA duration record and having the longest spaceflight of any American at the length of 215 days; this time was spent on board the ISS from September 18, 2006 to April 21, 2007. I am currently the President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. I'm starting to answer questions at 2PM EST


Comments: 998 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

cjhilinski380 karma

What's scarier? Goin' up or comin' down?

MichaelLopezAlegria486 karma

Depends. On the Space Shuttle, ascent was definitely scarier than entry. On the Soyuz, entry was pretty sporty; I'd call it a draw!

wink4jesse308 karma

What is the biggest thing holding space exploration back and how do we make it more feasible?

MichaelLopezAlegria598 karma

Lack of consistent government funding is a big problem. I think there is widespread public support, but that doesn't seem to translate to support in Congress. A sustained funding profile supporting a coherent exploration strategy is needed.

MichaelLopezAlegria241 karma

Hi everyone! It's a little early, but I'm going to jump in. This is my first time on Reddit; be nice!

kanos777235 karma

Which animal do you think would look the most hilarious in 0 gravity?

MichaelLopezAlegria508 karma

A cat. But I'd make sure it's declawed before watching in person.

Bersonic209 karma

During EVA, does NASA give you time to just take in the veiw?

MichaelLopezAlegria396 karma

Not enough. You're pretty focused on getting the job done. But every once in awhile you need to take a peek; the view is unbelievable.

thekingoftherats191 karma

have you seen the new movie gravity? if so what did you think of it?

MichaelLopezAlegria258 karma

I haven't seen it yet. The trailer looks a little over the top, but some (including my staff) say it's a must-see!

ferrisvalyn159 karma

What enticed you away from NASA, and to CSF?

MichaelLopezAlegria288 karma

I wanted to be part of what I think is the key to the future of human spaceflight.

oxryly150 karma

How big of a concern is orbital debris on a typical mission and how do you deal with it?

MichaelLopezAlegria214 karma

It's not trivial. Folks on the ground keep track of the threats. If it's serious we are notified a couple of days before the "conjunction" (official NASA term). If it doesn't go away (tracking accuracy improves over time), we execute a maneuver to avoid. I think in my seven months aboard ISS that happened twice.

klavierjerke133 karma

Did you have a "holy shit" I'm in space moment and when did it first happen? Also, as an engineering student in the biomedical and chemical engineering fields how do you recommend someone get into switching fields into aerospace or some similar field of engineering considering I'm already a 4th year?

MichaelLopezAlegria226 karma

I think "holy shit" might be a direct quote of me right after MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) on my first launch (and the other three, for that matter).

rocketwikkit132 karma

What do you see as the CSF's public role? In public view it doesn't seem to do anything other than put out press releases when its members are in the news.

MichaelLopezAlegria147 karma


East_Threadly128 karma

Awesome, hey will you settle an argument? Okay, we've got a sphere of water suspended in space. Now, if we put a fish in the sphere would it disperse the water everywhere or could the fish swim around in it?

MichaelLopezAlegria159 karma

You'd have to ask some of my wicked smart colleagues. My guess is that the fish could swim just fine, but I think the bigger the sphere the better for the fish.

nacho567112 karma

Who would you rather have with you in space, George Clooney or Sandra Bullock?

MichaelLopezAlegria236 karma

Is this an IQ test?

Iampossiblyatwork102 karma

What do you think will be the next big step in the propulsion of spacecraft?

MichaelLopezAlegria169 karma

I wish I could predict. I think we do need to find a viable alternative to traditional chemical propulsion. Solar-electric and nuclear seem like potential options.

nacho56769 karma

With the ISS operational until 2020 (or possibly 2028) how feasible is it for commercial space companies to use resupply of the ISS as a business model when they'll still be in the testing phase for a few more years?

MichaelLopezAlegria84 karma

Great question. The ISS resupply part of the equation is pretty clear - two companies are already providing cargo to ISS under NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract. The business that deals with taking crew to and from ISS is indeed still in the testing phase. NASA is interested in extending ISS to 2028; that's already a lot more flights than if it ended in 2020. With more flights the fixed costs are spread out, lowering the per-launch cost and increasing profit margins. But the real key will be to have customers other than NASA - private companies, sovereign nations or even space tourists.

Doctors_Companion0167 karma

Hey thanks for doing this AMA! How would you describe the feeling of being launched into space? Does it captivate you every time?

MichaelLopezAlegria122 karma

It's a rush. Imagine the acceleration of a super fast car, but it lasts over 8 minutes. Captivating through at least four launches!

Roll9ers62 karma

How much time on the ISS is spent working as opposed to down time? What do you do on that down time?

Also, what degrees would fit best to what you do up there?

MichaelLopezAlegria114 karma

We work five and a half days a week, usually about 9-10 hours a day. But we are also obliged to exercise on "off" days, so there isn't a whole lot of spare time. We usually spend it keeping in touch with family and friends, and looking out the window.

Thanasi9556 karma

Hey Michael, thanks for doing this. My question is, did you ever have a moment where you truly feared for your life. And if so, what's the story?

MichaelLopezAlegria121 karma

Not really; I've been more scared in an airplane than on a space flight.

cathedrameregulaemea26 karma

Can you recount the instance(s) for us? Anything in specific?

MichaelLopezAlegria79 karma

None that I'd care to share. But flying an airplane is a lot more dynamic than being in space. If ascent takes about 8.5 minutes, and entry takes maybe 30, I've spent about 2.5 hours in really dynamic spaceflight, compared to about 5500 piloting airplanes.

EndlessOwls51 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA, what is your favorite part of a space mission?

MichaelLopezAlegria82 karma

It's all good (well, most of it). The launch is pretty exciting. Floating magic. The view is spectacular! But EVA is probably my favorite.

maelstrom0849 karma

I'm guessing that you've experienced some pretty dark skies with good seeing on earth. Could you contrast those conditions with those you experience looking away from the earth on the ISS? I imagine it must be quite spectacular to bypass the atmosphere by going up to low earth orbit.

MichaelLopezAlegria84 karma

True, but it's almost impossible to get rid of light sources on the inside of ISS. Best view of the stars is during a night pass, no moon, while EVA.

PlasmaWarrior49 karma

What would you say is a good foundation for anyone looking to start a career in the Aerospace industry or Space Intelligence?

MichaelLopezAlegria75 karma

STEM subjects!

romonster48 karma

How is sleeping in zero gravity? I've seen what you have to be strapped into, but my question is more of how comfortable it is. And also, what is the hardest thing to adjust to when you are up there and when you first get back. Thanks again for doing this AMA!

MichaelLopezAlegria105 karma

It's pretty easy to fall asleep at the end of a long day, but I found I would wake up after a few hours and have trouble falling back asleep. I missed that gratifying feeling of lying down on a real bed. The hardest thing to get used to upon return is how damn heavy everything seems!

bonkersmonkers47 karma

What film do you think most accurately captures what it's like to be in space? Thanks for doing this AMA!

MichaelLopezAlegria104 karma

From those I've seen (I'm not really a sci-fi buff) I'd say Apollo 13.

StuffHobbes46 karma

I've heard it said that space smells like "seared steak." Is there any truth to this or is it a load of malarkey?

MichaelLopezAlegria96 karma

Never heard that one. I agree with the commonly used description of "burned metal."

Nickompoop46 karma

How much training is required in order to be qualified to go to the ISS?

MichaelLopezAlegria71 karma

The training template is 2.5 years from the start of mission-specific training until launch. That's for someone who's already been through astronaut candidate training (another couple of years). It could be done more efficiently, but there's a lot of travel (and learning Russian, for now).

Bersonic41 karma

If I wanted to be an astronaut, what would I have to study in college, and what else would I have to do to have a remote chance at becoming one?

MichaelLopezAlegria66 karma

I used to say that you'd have to study STEM subjects. With the advent of commercial suborbital flights, you just have to have a few (thousand) extra dollars, regardless of what (or if) you studied. I hope that in a few years the price will come down even lower.

manmalade35 karma

Hi Michael!

What are your opinions about life in outer space?

Common occurrence?

MichaelLopezAlegria112 karma

Hard to know. While the universe is so immense that it seems unlikely that there isn't intelligent life out there, it's also so immense that it IS unlikely we'd ever run into it.

Universu31 karma

Greetings! When will be the first official commercial suborbital flight and first official commercial manned orbital flight?

MichaelLopezAlegria40 karma

Sir Richard says February 2014. I think the XCOR guys are in the same ballpark. As for orbital - that depends a lot on NASA funding. They're saying 2017; companies say they could go earlier.

cheevocabra29 karma

As a space superfan who is concerned about the downward spiral of funding for space research and exploration by our government I would like to know if you think we should continue to work toward trying to secure funding for government agencies like NASA or all just cut bait and embrace the private sector as our only real hope?

MichaelLopezAlegria70 karma

A mix. NASA is still the preeminent space agency in the world and can do incredible things. But the commercial sector is proving that it has the ability to do some pretty cutting edge things, and can do them relatively inexpensively. Count on NASA for the far-off, really challenging stuff where there's not business model, and let commercial do the rest.

Cal1n22 karma

Hi Michael, which regions of the world do you see making the biggest advances over the next two decades in terms of manned space flight technologies?

MichaelLopezAlegria29 karma

  1. The U.S.; 2. Europe

MahaliAudran22 karma

  1. When did you decide you wanted to be an astronaut 1.a. When did you start focusing on it as a goal?

  2. Best and worst part of being an astronaut?

MichaelLopezAlegria66 karma

I played astronaut as a kid, but never really thought seriously about it until age 25 - I was a pilot in the Navy interested in becoming a test pilot. Turns out a lot of early astronauts had gone through test pilot training and that's what made it seem possible. Best - spacewalking Worst - pooping in zero g

BraveRutherford22 karma

If you were to have a giant dinner party at your house, I'm talking catered five course dinner, live band, dancing, the works! All your friends will be there, your family will be there, maybe even some big wigs from the space industry...would you planet?

MichaelLopezAlegria35 karma


tiag019 karma

Thanks for taking the time to make this AMA!

How did you cope with gravity after being 215 days in 0 g? Honestly do any of the excercises done really help avoid the muscle/bone loss suffered?

Also, what's next on the agenda for the Commercial Spaceflight federation?

MichaelLopezAlegria36 karma

Exercise is definitely key to recovering quickly post-flight. The ISS now has a new weight machine - Advanced Resistive Exercise Device - that has helped crew members return with near zero Bone Mass Density loss after five plus months on orbit.

mniss17 karma

How far away do you think affordable commercial spaceflight is? Do you think it could replace air travel as we know it today?

MichaelLopezAlegria29 karma

Depends on your definition of "affordable." It's already affordable for some (seven paid tens of millions to spend a week aboard ISS). But for us normal folk, I really think it could happen within a decade or two. It will never replace air travel, but could well complement it for transcontinental flight.

DoneDigging13 karma

How would you describe looking at Earth from space? Do you identify with the phenomenon "The Overview Effect"?

MichaelLopezAlegria37 karma

I think the so-called Overview Effect is directly tied to seeing the Earth from space. Kinda recages your gyro . . . .

HowObvious11 karma

Did you throw up your first time in zero Gs? If so whats thats like?

MichaelLopezAlegria22 karma

No, but definitely felt a little queasy for awhile. Even in the worse cases I've seen it's pretty much resolved after a day or so.

stephenbp669 karma

If a person wanted to go into space for a day (lets say obit the earth), what skills/training would they need to know before go into space?

MichaelLopezAlegria11 karma

As a spaceflight participant (non crew member) for one orbit (about 90 minutes), just enjoy the ride!

Hibr3d8 karma

How would your colleges go about retrieving you incase you actually became detached in space and started drifting away?

Is there an emergency shuttle with a robot arm that pulls you back in or are you on your own?

MichaelLopezAlegria25 karma

We are always tethered to the ISS by a stranded metal cable; pretty unlikely that would break. But we do practice rescuing each other if one should become incapacitated. We do that training in a big swimming pool - the Neutral Buoyancy Lab - and it's pretty challenging. But everyone has to demonstrate the ability to drag an incapacitated colleague back into the airlock before they're considered qualified for EVA.

NotSaturn7 karma

Hi, You mentioned Apollo 13, have you seen the HBO Mini series "From Earth To The Moon"? I really think you would enjoy it as it is one of the best space related things I have seen.

On to a question, what did it feel like when you first experienced real '0G' in space? Was it different to training or were you already used to it?


MichaelLopezAlegria10 karma

Zero g is zero g; same in a parabolic flight as in orbit. The difference is - it never ends!

because-racecar6 karma

Did you ever see anything during your missions that could have been of extraterrestrial origin? If not, how do you explain Buzz Aldrin's and several other astronauts' claims that there are ET visitors around our earth and moon? Please be honest with your reply. If you cannot talk about this for whatever reasons, just say so.

Thank you.

MichaelLopezAlegria11 karma

In complete honesty - no; nothing.

L_Zilcho4 karma

Have you seen Gravity? Thoughts?

MichaelLopezAlegria18 karma

Based on the number of questions about this movie, I'm going to stop answering questions and go see it!

Thanks everyone; sorry if I wasn't able to answer your questions.