Between his three trips to space, a voyage to Antarctica and time spent in a submarine off Mexico, James F Reilly has been to some of the most inhospitable and incredible environments both on and off earth.
We caught up with this all-round adventurer to find out more about his enviable travel CV, the future of space hotels, and why a salad isn’t always the healthiest option.
Where was your last trip?
It was to Virginia in the United States, working for the US Navy. The thing that’s great about Virginia is they have wonderful seafood. So, I look forward to those trips.
Where is your next trip?
What is your first travel-related memory?
It was on a train actually, somewhere in California. I remember sticking my head out of the window and seeing the engine turning the corner up ahead of us and thinking that was the longest thing I’d ever seen in my life. I would have been about three.
Aisle or window seat?
I’m kind of tall, and most aircraft windows are pretty small, so when I look out I can’t really see anything except straight down. Usually, I get the aisle so I don’t disturb anyone else when I get up to walk around the airplane.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I travel often enough that I actually have a lot of my stuff pre-packaged. So when I get home after a trip I’ll re-organise any toiletries, all that kind of stuff. I‘ve got my packing rituals down to about 10 minutes for a two-week trip.
Favourite city or country or region?
My favourite city is where we live now: Colorado Springs. My wife and I are outdoors people so when the weather’s good we’ll head up into the mountains, go hiking, climbing, camping, fishing, skiing in the winter.
What is your most unforgettable travel memory?
Actually, it’s in the UK. My wife and I met, and started, our relationship at Glamis in Forfar, Scotland. We got married in the chapel there, which is a very rare thing. And then our first-born son, Jacob, was baptised there. Both of those trips were very special.
What has been your most challenging travel experience?
There are two that come to mind. One was getting to the Antarctic when I was doing my research in Geosciences for my Master's Degree. We had to pack for four months and ship everything six months before we left, so we had to have every detail organised about a year before. There weren’t any options to run down to the corner store to pick up the things we were missing.
The second one was in a submarine. We were going offshore to the Gulf of Mexico to do work on my PhD, and we had a US Navy submarine that we used to dive about 1000 feet or so. That was another one where we had to do a lot of planning. Everything has to work the first time.
In both cases, they were pretty spectacular trips.
Are there any home comforts you might take with you?
I always have pictures of my kids and my wife with me; it reminds you that there is something pretty important back home. One of the things we had on the International Space Station (ISS) was the ability to makes phone calls home, so I was able to call my dad on Father’s Day, which was pretty neat. I also called my wife from the ISS, but she didn’t recognise the number and pick up, so I had to leave her a message.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
My best ones are memories.
What’s your biggest travel fail?
I was in the oil industry before I became an astronaut and I was working in Argentina in the province of Jujuy. We had sat down to have a traditional Argentine dinner, which is green salad and steak with some fried potatoes. I hadn’t had a salad in a while so I pitched into it, and about halfway through I noticed nobody else was eating any of it. About 12 hours later I realised why... that was about 36 hours of misery.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
I was about to go out to do my first spacewalk, and of course when you’re doing that all you’re thinking about are the details of what you’ve got to go do. Yuri Usachev, the Commander on board the ISS, came and gave the mandatory safety briefing and when he completed it he said, ‘every hour you need to just stop and take 10 seconds and look around.' So right at an hour, I had that chance. I was on the end of the robotic arm and for about 10 seconds I didn’t have anything to do, so I leaned back in the suit and there was Europe sweeping by below us.
As we look towards a future of commercial space flights, what benefits do you think space tourism will have on the travel industry?
It’s going to start out as being a rich person's game. It’s going to eventually change: space tech companies like Bigelow have plans to put inflatable stations in lower orbit where you and I could go spend a week or two in a space hotel. But probably what’s going to happen before that is a little more prosaic: we’re going to be able to go places by going into space. Rather than the nine hours it took to get over to the UK from Houston, we’ll be able to do it in a couple of hours by going suborbital. I’m pretty sure we’ll see that in our lifetime, certainly our kids' lifetimes.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
I would grab all of my kids and head off to Machu Picchu, because I’ve never been there. I’ve always wanted to go.
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
I’d probably give something like Yuri’s advice, and that is: don’t get too focused on the objective of just getting there, make sure you look around and spend a little time just walking around. Some of the best places I’ve ever found in the world are places I’ve found when I’m lost.
James F Reilly is a Kennedy Space Center ambassador (kennedyspacecenter.com) and serves as Associate Vice President and Dean of Science and Technology Development for the American Public University System (mach25management.com).