NASA Astronaut and Oxford research collaborator Dr Mike Foale lands at St John's College

Date 3 November 2021

Two weeks ago, St John's hosted veteran British American astronaut Dr Mike Foale for a range of departmental tours and talks for students and staff from the college and the wider University community.

Dr Foale is a veteran astronaut whose career consists of 6 missions, including 5 Shuttle missions, a long-duration mission on the Mir Space Station, and command of the International Space Station during Expedition 8. Having retired from NASA in 2013, Dr Foale continues to work within the space sector alongside the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET), where Dr Foale works closely with Chris Barber (ISSET Founder) and St Johns first year DPhil student Dan Molland (ISSET Lead Scientist on ISS payload development). 

As part of his visit to St John's College, Dr Foale was hosted for tours of the Biochemistry, Earth Science and Physics departments to hear more about the ongoing space science research within the University. At these tours, Dr Foale heard about the new ground-breaking European Space Agency-sponsored astrobiology research being conducted by St John's DPhil student Dan Molland in Professor Jason Schnell's laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry. Alongside this, Dr Foale also got to see the work on planetary formation undertaken by Dr Jon Wade at the Department of Earth Sciences and the work on Exoplanetary detection undertaken by Professor Suzanne Aigrain’s group within the exoplanetary detection group at the Department of Physics.

Mike_Foale_1.jpg Dan Molland and Astronaut Dr Mike Foale alongside graduate students from the Wade lab at the department of Earth Sciences

Following the tours, Dr Foale was hosted for an informal Q&A Session in the Garden Quad Auditorium. At the session, attendees heard from Dr Foale on his experience as a NASA astronaut, where he outlined his career from being a graduate student through to his journey in NASA across his six mission career. Following this, attendees had an opportunity to quiz Dr Foale on topics ranging from how to successfully apply to be an astronaut through to the sustainability of space travel. At the end of the talk, Dr Foale, Chris Barber and Dan Molland spoke to attendees about how to get involved with developing experiments for launch to the International Space Station. These experiments are proposed by high school students at the ISSET Mission Discovery Programmes and offer an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to engage with space station research and learn the principles of designing experiments for the International Space Station. Empowering students with this capability will be critical as the space industry grows in the coming decades. Upcoming experiments will launch to the International Space Station as part of the NASA-SpaceX Cargo Resupply Missions, with the first experiment resulting from this collaboration due to launch in May 2022 aboard SpaceX CRS 25.

Mike_Foale_2.jpg Professors Jason Schnell and Zoltan Molnar host Dr Foale, Rhonda Foale and Chris Barber at the SJC Senior Common Room.

Dr Foale and Chris Barbers' ongoing research collaboration with the University through Professor Jason Schnell is set to continue long into the future, and we look forward to hosting them both again.

Students interested in involvement with the development of experiments for launch to the ISS are invited to contact Dan Molland at

Text by Daniel Molland