What are your current business interests?
Right now Iím not working on any project other than the training for our launch in April. I fund a venture-capital company in South Africa, HBD Venture Capital, as well as some non-profit organisations such as TSF and Bridges.org, which work on technology deployment in education and the public sector in developing countries.
Question:What made you want to fly to space?
Answer: Space flight is the ultimate expression of our willingness to explore new frontiers in engineering and science. Iíve always been fascinated by science and technology, and the opportunity to participate in the crew mission to the International Space Station is the realisation of a lifelong dream for me. At the same time, itís a good opportunity to put science and technology into the forefront of public imagination in South Africa.
What are your hobbies?
Answer:I read a lot, mostly about emerging technologies and trends. And I enjoy travel. But I never thought Iíd have the chance to see the world all at once, so to speak.
Have you got a family? How did your loved ones take your decision to fly to space?
Answer: Iím not married, but my folks and brothers will hopefully be in Baikonur for the launch. They may think its a little crazy, but theyíve been a huge support nonetheless.
Who will be on the Soyuz flight to the International Space Station?
Answer:The crew consists of me; commander Yuri Gidzenko, a Russian cosmonaut and fighter pilot; and Roberto Vittori, an Italian astronaut and test pilot.
What do you think of Russia?
Answer: Itís a very dramatic country, full of extremes and contradictions, which makes it an interesting place to live and work. The Russian people are very warm-hearted, but not necessarily easy to get along with until one appreciates the nature of life here. I hope to spend more time here once the flight is done.
How have you been received in Russia?
Answer: Iíve been treated well. Thereís a lot of curiosity from people who want to know what kind of person does something like that, but itís all been friendly.
Whatís the food like at Star City?
Answer:I eat a Russian military lunch most days, in the pilotís canteen at Star City. I make killer eggs for breakfast, and dinner is usually cooked by one of the South Africans working here on the project. Fortunately, as Iím a bit of a hazard in the kitchen.
What do you do in your free time?
Answer: In the early part of the project, I stayed mostly in Moscow and tried to see the sights and get a feel for the city. Now I prefer to stay in Star City and relax ... the work schedule is very intense, very tiring, and the pressure is high. Days off are a rarity, weekends are precious, so I try to unwind and catch up on administrivia.
Have you visited Moscow?
Answer: Yes - I stayed there for the first month or two of the project. Star City isnít far from Moscow, about an hour or ninety minutes by car, depending on traffic.
What do you likes and dislikes about Russia?
Answer: I like the people, I like the very cold days, I like the language and I like the happy contradictions that make up life in Russia. As for dislikes, Iíd say the frustration that goes hand-in-hand with a developing country is top of a short list.
Where have you been in Russia?
Answer: Iíve only been to Moscow and Star City, which is a tiny fraction of a country that has the largest land mass of any in the world and spans seven time zones. Hopefully Iíll get to see more of Russia in the years to come.
Question: Do you find it difficult to live in Russia? What do you think about conveniences and climate?
Answer: Conveniences are a welcome respite from the norm over here ;-). And the climate is what it is ... extreme. Actually, I was sad that we didnít have a very cold winter this year, it was the warmest on record.
Question: Tell us about your training at Star City.
Answer: Thereís physical training - both for fitness and for specific aspects of the flight. We have zero-G training, where we fly a big cargo plane through huge parabolas in the sky to simulate weightlessness for 30 seconds at a time. There is also a lot of work in the Soyuz simulator, where we practise dealing with emergency situations in the rocket and return capsule. Most of the training is theoretical - classroom work - but more and more is now practical work with the science equipment and simulators.
What do you feel on the threshold of your flight?
Answer: Privileged, daunted, a little scared, but very excited!
Could you tell us about the essence of the experiments you are going to carry out in space?
Answer: There are several experiments that will be my responsibility in-flight. Two experiments come from the Sports Science Institute at the University of Cape Town. They involve the monitoring of muscle damage and heart rate, and specific types of exercise to improve the condition of returning astronauts. A third experiment comes from the University of Stellenbosch - it involves taking stem cells and embryos into space to observe their development in weightlessness. A fourth, from the University of Port Elizabeth, involves an attempt to produce good quality crystals of critical proteins from HIV and the human immune system, so further our understanding of HIV/AIDS. Iíll also be working with two Russian experiments, photographing specific parts of the ocean and earth that are environmentally sensitive, and working with fruit flies in space. That is a very big and ambitious space science programme - we are trying to achieve a tremendous amount with one short flight, on a short development timeline. So there is a lot of risk involved. But if we get a good result out of any of these experiments Iíll be satisfied.