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First contact: Kylian Mbappé's galactic meeting with ESA astronaut

"I have so many questions," beamed Kylian Mbappé as he spoke to ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet (in space!) in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2020.

Kylian Mbappé meets ESA astronaut
Kylian Mbappé meets ESA astronaut

Determined to support France's UEFA EURO 2020 bid even as he was busy in the European Space Agency's football pitch-sized Columbus laboratory aboard the International Space Station, Rouen-born astronaut Thomas Pesquet took time out to link up with Les Bleus' star striker Kylian Mbappé – now officially the first football player to have direct contact with a man in space.

Pesquet, 43, had just 20 minutes to speak to Mbappé as the Space Station orbited over Europe (in the time that it takes for an 11-a-side match to run its course, it has gone once around the world) and the pair compared notes over their responsibilities this summer and the challenges of playing – and watching – football in space. UEFA.com was honoured to sit in.

Watch the whole encounter on UEFA.tv

Mission Control, Houston: You are clear for a question

Mbappé “I can’t believe my eyes! I have so many questions, I don’t know where to start. First of all, how does it feel to be in space?”

Pesquet: “It’s thrilling. A six-month mission had a phenomenal start with the big launch and after that, it’s like going on a roller coaster ride but 10,000 times more powerful. Once you’re in space, all of a sudden it’s so quiet; everything just floats around, everything’s so calm, everything’s easy. You can lift very heavy loads because obviously you don’t feel the weight anymore. You can fly. So, it’s like a dream. Obviously, it’s like in a footballer’s career: every time you dream of something, you also have to put all the work in. We work a lot to get ready to go to space. We’re just like you. We don’t just lift trophies and appear on TV.”

Mbappé: “I heard that there are four or five of you up there, right?”

Pesquet: “Four of us left and we joined three colleagues in the ISS. We speak in English every day but we also speak quite a lot of Russian. It’s like for you, in a club with so many nationalities, you have to understand each other.”

Mbappé: “You have to learn about everyone’s culture. You have to adapt to everyone because everybody comes from different regions, different countries or even sometimes different continents.”

Pesquet: “We’ve been here for a month already, but we’re going to stay here for six months in isolation – just us, with our crew. When you play a major competition, it’s a little bit similar. We train a lot on the ground beforehand. We try to get put through extreme conditions to learn about each other, to find out how everyone thinks, what their fears are, what they like, how they function.”

Mbappé: “Yeah, I think it’s important to always create an environment that allows everyone to thrive. At any given moment, you don’t know who you might need and when. And that’s also how you win big competitions.”

On dealing with pressure

Every goal on France's road to EURO 2020
Every goal on France's road to EURO 2020

Pesquet: “We’re really closely assessed by doctors, physiotherapists who are continually monitoring us. We undergo dozens upon dozens of tests to make sure that, once we’re in space, everything will go smoothly. Do you find it quite nice to be so closely monitored?”

Mbappé: “It’s quite nice but it’s a pressure too. You’re always scared, thinking that the smallest thing could stop you from pursuing your passion. We have a great deal of comfort but there’s that anxiety, of saying to yourself ‘Right, I hope everything goes smoothly and that there are no snags that could put a spanner in the works’.”

Pesquet: “Totally. Our careers are on the line, but our lives are too, to some extent. I have a tendency to work really hard; that’s the norm for astronauts, you know? It’s always 10% talent, 50% hard work, and 50% perseverance. But once again I imagine it’s the same in football.”

Mbappé: “We all have that dream when we start playing, that you want to become a footballer, you want to become a star player. But after that, there’s a lot of work involved, a lot of sacrifice. There’s also an element of luck, of meeting the right people at the right time, of having good performances at the right time. There are many people who started playing football at a very young age and who, unfortunately, did not become footballers. It’s not just a matter of being talented or working hard; you need perseverance, you also need a little bit of luck. In life, you make your own luck too.”

The appliance of science

Mbappé becomes youngest to 25 Champions League goals
Mbappé becomes youngest to 25 Champions League goals

Pesquet: “I was wondering about the advanced statistics there are now. Players are GPS-tracked, everything is calculated – how fast they run, how much distance they have covered. That speaks to me a little, as a scientist. To what extent has that become important?”

Mbappé: “It’s ever present. I don’t think anything is left to chance in football today. And I’ve been in professional football for four, five years now, and I’ve already seen that progression, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for those that are older than me and have been around longer. But I also have a question: what do you do in space? Have you made any discoveries?”

Pesquet: “We do a fair amount of medical research, on physiology and stem cells. There’s a phenomenon by which if you spend six months in space, it’s as if your body aged ten years: you lose muscle because you’re not using them, you lose bone mass, because you don’t need to support the weight of your body. You atrophy a bit. The scientists love it, because you see what’s going on with the cells, DNA, etc., and they think they may even be able to understand the key to ageing. So, that’s just one subject; there are plenty of others. We make alloys, we do lots of things. Every day, I’m doing four or five different experiments.”

Mbappé: “That’s good. You’ve got to find [out about ageing] fast, because I’ll be old soon and I need to know, OK?”

Pesquet: “You’ve still got time!"

On football in space

Watch great EURO headers
Watch great EURO headers

Pesquet: "I tried playing [football up here] with my colleagues, but playing weightless football is not great at all. It’s a game made to be played on the ground. Even zero-gravity juggling is totally pointless, because the ball goes up but never goes down. It is the same for shooting and everything, so Kylian I doubt you would be happy here.”

Mbappé: “Football is not the only thing in life! But it would be a crazy experience, it would be incredible!”

Pesquet: “We do try playing on weekends with my colleagues, we even set goals, but really, it does not work. Except for overhead kicks! But that’s the only thing for which it’s better.”

Mbappé: “So, you’re up there for a six-month period?”

Pesquet: “Exactly. Imagine, it’s like a World Cup for which you don’t play matches for six or seven years and then, boom! You play the World Cup. That’s our life. We prepare ourselves physically, mentally and psychologically, but in the end, all this is only practice. Then we stay in outer space for six months, and after that, it takes another six months to recover. You can go on two, three, maybe four missions if you are lucky. The rest of the time is about preparing a lot. You work a lot, but it’s a behind the scenes sort of work.”

Mbappé: “Behind the scenes indeed, but we don’t care as long as we’re passionate. We don’t mind being in the shadows as long as we do what we love, and your smile alone proves that you love what you do.”

Mission Control, Houston: Gentlemen, we have 30 seconds left. Thank you…

Pesquet: “I just wanted to say it was great for me. There seems to be a few things in common between my universe and yours. We are going to follow the EUROs here. I already have my ball ready! My colleagues are US football fans but I will explain the rules. Best of luck for the competition, once again, it takes a lot of hard work. Make us proud! I work a lot to represent France proudly and I know you guys do too.”

Mbappé: “It really was a great pleasure, I have learnt a lot. It was an unforgettable experience. The fact of seeing you has blown my eyes and ears away! Goodbye Thomas!”

Pesquet: “Thank you guys! See you soon! Bye!”

Mbappé: “That’s crazy, he’s flying!”

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