You are an F-16 pilot. Has this been of any help when training for your Soyuz mission?
Undoubtedly. My background as a test pilot and as an engineer has been very helpful when learning how to use the Soyuz systems. These systems are of course different, but their architecture and the way of thinking in designing these systems are very similar. I have picked up on how to use these systems very easily.
How did you learn Russian in order to follow your courses and read the manuals?
The Russian language is very difficult to learn, but it is an essential part of the training. At the beginning you have a lot of lessons, sometimes individually, which is a great help. You also learn Russian just by being here in Russia, by reading and speaking the language. No one expects your Russian to be perfect; you don’t have to know all the vocabulary or to give a presentation in Russian. You just have to make yourself understood. You must understand the technical language and the operational tasks you have to accomplish. That's not been too difficult to do.
Was the Russian language the most difficult barrier during your training?
At the beginning it was. It is a big barrier when you want to establish friendships and long-standing relationships. With my current knowledge of Russian I'm able to perform my duties as Flight Engineer. I also did exams in Russian without a translator. The training sessions with the simulators are completely in Russian, with Russian manuals.
Have you been training in different places?
The bulk of my training has been in Russia. For the training for the scientific programme, it would be difficult for all the scientists to come to Russia. In Europe, a part of my training was in Belgium, another part at ESTEC in Holland, and yet another in Cologne, at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC). It depends, among other things, on the availability of training models. At ESTEC there is for instance an MSG training model. I've also been in the United States at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where there is a full mock-up of the ISS.