When did you decide for the first time that you wanted to be an astronaut?
It was when I saw the first launch of the Space Shuttle in 1981. I was studying at the military school at that time and the Columbia was the first Shuttle to be launched. “I would like to do that too”, I thought to myself. A few months later I wrote to NASA to ask what I should do to become an astronaut. I even got a reply. They told me that I had chosen a good education, but I needed more experience.
Will you be going on more than one space mission? Do you plan a further space career?
Yes, of course. It has always been my intention to become a professional astronaut. I think it's great if you can first make a short flight, like my taxi-flight, to get acquainted with space and the International Space Station. Later I hope I will be able to make a longer flight as a member of the ISS main crew and stay on board the Station for three, four or more months. I would really like to do that. Maybe it will be possible once our own European Columbus laboratory has been launched to the ISS in 2004.
What does your family think about your spaceflight?
I get a lot of support from my family in this adventure. Especially my wife and children, they are very supportive. They watch everything very closely. But it is difficult to combine certain things. I'm here in Moscow, while my family lives in Belgium. I try to go home regularly, and I make a lot of phone calls home. We can also use a videolink to keep in touch. My family has got used to all this. In 1991 I was an astronaut candidate. At home we talked a lot about space and about how I wanted to be an astronaut.
Maybe the ISS will be the departure point or an intermediate station for interplanetary missions. Would you like to make a flight to Mars?
I've already answered this question many times. At the moment I have a responsibility to my family. Even now it's difficult to combine this responsibility with my work and my function. Often I am not at home, but it can still be done. But a mission to Mars takes many years. It would be difficult for my children if I were away for such a long time. Maybe I will be interested in ten, fifteen or twenty years when my children have their own life and I have less responsibility towards them.
What does the astronaut profession mean to you?
It is something I have always wanted to do. I think it's great to be able to fly into space. More generally I think that mankind always tries to step forward, to explore and to look further. I think we should continue in this way. The next step will be the further exploration of space beyond the Earth, returning to the Moon and then on to Mars and the rest of the Solar System.
Is your work still a pioneering job?
The pioneering part of space exploration lies mostly behind us; I think that's a good thing. More people should be able to go into space. We must increase the number of space flights to reduce the costs. The decision makers can then concentrate on the further exploration of space. We cannot afford to keep orbiting Earth for another 20 years. We must have the courage to step forward.
A lot of youngsters want to be an astronaut. What is your advice to them?
The main thing is that you get a good education as an engineer, a scientist or a doctor. This is very important if you want to be a professional astronaut. Then once you start your career you must try and look for possibilities that bring you closer to space research. You can do scientific or medical research in areas relating to space. Or you can have a career within an operational field of space research.