Expo 2020 Dubai: Space tourism no good unless it helps humanity, says French astronaut

Thomas Pesquet speaks about exercising in space and growing chilly peppers during an interaction at France Pavilion

by Anjana Sankar

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Published: Fri 18 Mar 2022, 5:40 PM

Last updated: Sat 19 Mar 2022, 4:53 PM

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet who spent six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS) last year, said space tourism is no good unless it helps humanity progress, and that he did not “particularly liked” Elon Musk.

“If it (space tourism) is for rich people with heavy carbon footprint to have fun, it is not a great thing,” said Pesquet during an interaction at the France Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Friday morning.

“We do not go to space for fun. We do it because it is useful for humanity. It has a purpose,” said the astronaut, who first blasted off to space in 2016 aboard Russian Soyuz and spent 197 days in ISS as a flight engineer.

His second mission was in April 2021 and he spent nearly 200 days before returning to earth on November 8 the same year aboard the SpaceX Crew-2 Crew Dragon. He is the first European to travel on SpaceX and the first French astronaut to command the ISS during the mission.

Speaking about international collaboration on space, Pesquet, 44, said astraoauts remain unaffected by conflicts on earth and continue to partner. “There are no tensions or division.”

When asked what he thought about Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, who sent four private citizens to space in September 2021 on a private Inspiration4 Mission, Pesquet said he was not particularly nice when he met him.

“He had an odd haircut. It looked like he cut his own hair without a mirror.”

During an hour-long session at the France Pavilion, Pesquet, shared his experiences of running on a treadmill in space, growing chilly peppers and socialising with fellow astronauts. He took questions from a small yet enthusiastic audience that included starry eyed children who quizzed him on going to Mars and Moon.

Though supplies of food and water arrived regularly from earth, he said they recycled everything including 98% of the water in the Space Station. During the mission, he said they even grew chilli peppers in the laboratory. “It was very, very spicy,” said Pesquet.

In longer missions in future, he said astronauts will have to grow their own food on the ISS and eat what they harvest.

He also spoke about his training and challenges astronauts and international collaboration between space agencies while a big screen behind him beamed videos of the astronaut floating around in zero gravity and conducting various tasks inside the ISS.

Pesquet got eloquent about the devastating impact of human activities and climate change when he saw planet earth from a vantage point. “We see how fragile the earth is. When you are in earth, certain global issues seem beyond us. But when you are outside of earth, suddenly you understand it better,” said Pesquet who had shared numerous snaps of climate change impact on earth on his social media accounts and lamented the “sad sight.”

He said astronauts used to look at the earth through a small window and admire the beauty of glaciers, mountains, deserts, and urban landscapes. “It was so magical to see the beauty of earth from space.”

“I think I took half a million pictures and timelapse videos,” he said, adding that he should have thought about taking a picture of the sprawling Expo 2020 site in Dubai.

Recounting his blast off to space from Cape Canaveral Florida in April 2021 along with American astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide, Pesquet said the take-off is the most ‘spectacular sight’ to witness from outside.


Elaborating on life inside ISS, he said in addition to other tasks, astronauts must take care of their bodies as zero gravity is not good for human body. “To fight the negative effects of zero gravity, we do two hours of exercise every day. We have a treadmill and an apartment bicycle on ISS.”

Pesquet, who is known to have played his saxophone during Olympics, said astronauts indulged in synchronized swimming and organised their own Olympics aboard the ISS. “ISS is our workspace. But it is also where we live, we share meals and we have a social life.”

Anjana Sankar

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