Freelance Spain
Spaniards for the 21st Century

Pedro Duque and Miguel López-Alegría
Astronauts, the first Spaniards in space

Astronauts Miguel López-Alegría (left) and
Pedro Duque (Photos: NASA)

Spain was proud when one of her sons, Pedro Duque, became the first Spaniard in space, as part of a space shuttle mission in 1998. In fact, he was preceded by a paisano, Miguel López-Alegría, who like Duque was born in Madrid. López-Alegría flew his first mission in 1995, but as he was raised in the US and is an American citizen, he didn't qualify for the title.

While Pedro Duque trains to crew the International Space Station and dreams of ultimately flying a mission to Mars, in October 2000 his colleague Miguel Lopez Alegría was due to become the first Hispanic - if not Spaniard - to take a space walk, on his second mission aboard the space shuttle, installing a docking node on the International Space Station.


Pedro Duque was born in Madrid on March 14, 1963, the son of an air traffic controller. He can still remember watching the Moon landing when he was six years old, while his family were on summer holiday in the Basque Country, but he didn't harbor any dreams of becoming an astronaut as a child.

That just sort of happened.

Immediately after graduating in aeronautical engineering studies at Madrid's Universidad Politécnica in 1986 Pedro Duque went to work for GMV (Grupo Mecánica del Vuelo) as the technical leader on a helicopter simulation project. At the end of that year he was sent as contracted staff to the European Space Agency's operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, to work within the Precise Orbit Determination Group. In May 1992, Pedro Duque was selected to join the European Space Agency's Astronaut Corps and he completed a four-week training program at the Russian Astronauts Training Centre in Star City to prepare for joint ESA-Russian mission to the Mir Space Station.
Duque was selected as a member of the back-up crew for the Euromir-94 project, but his first participation in a space mission was on the ground, as Crew Interface Coordinator in the Russian Mission, liaising with ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold onboard Mir. He also took part as ground support in the subsequent ESA-Russian mission, Euromir-95.

The dream didn't come true for Duque until October 1998, when he flew a space shuttle mission aboard the Discovery after two years training at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. In May 1995, he had been selected by NASA as an Alternate Payload Specialist astronaut for the Life and Microgravity Spacelab  mission flown in June-July 1996. During this seventeen-day mission, Pedro Duque was one of two "crew interface coordinators", acting as the liaison between the investigators on ground and the scientific crew onboard the Columbia.

His first flight, from October 29 to November 7, 1998 was a 9-day scientific mission during which, among other missions, astronauts carried out research into the aging process. This was the mission which included veteran spaceman John Glenn among the crew.

In September 2004 Pedro Duque began to give classes at the Polytechnic University in Madrid.


Miguel ("Michael") López Alegría was born in Madrid on May 30, 1958, but was brought up in the United States, where his father, an aerospace engineer, worked for McDonell Douglas for 20 years. Lopez Alegría is now an American citizen, lives in Mission Viejo (California) and works for the American space agency, NASA.

After graduating from Mission Viejo high school, he studied systems engineering at the US Naval Academy and obtained a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate School in 1988. As a US Navy aviator, López Alegría served as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida, and later as a pilot and mission commander for an electronic reconnaissance squadron in Rota, Spain, flying missions in the Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic, Baltic Sea and Central America.

López-Alegría received the call from NASA in March 1992, and after one year of training and designation as an astronaut, he carried out various assignments at the Kennedy Space Center. On his first mission in space, from October 20 to November 5, 1995, Lopez-Alegria served as a mission specialist and flight engineer aboard the space shuttle Columbia, orbiting Earth 256 times, traveling over 6 million miles, and clocking up a total of 15 days, 21 hours, 52 minutes and 21 seconds in space.

In October 2000, López was scheduled to take part in his second shuttle mission, and this time was due to take his first space walk, installing a docking node on the International Space Station.

Further information:
NASA biography of Pedro Duque:
NASA Pedro Duque pre-flight interview:
NASA biography of Miguel López:
NASA Miguel López pre-flight interview:



Freelance Spain Showcase - Journalists - Photographers 
 Features - Travel
- People - Freelance Selections- Editor's Shortcut - Links 

Comments, suggestions, questions, complaints? Drop us a line at [email protected]

Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet