Foale was born in Lincolnshire in 1957. He studied at Queens' College, Cambridge receiving a first-class honours degree and a doctorate in laboratory astrophysics.
Pursuing a career in the US Space Program, Foale moved to Houston, Texas, to work on Space Shuttle navigation for McDonnell Douglas. In June 1983, Foale joined NASA Johnson Space Center
in the payload operations area of the Mission Operations Directorate where he was responsible for payload operations on Space Shuttle missions STS-51G, 51-I, 61-B
Foale was selected as an Astronaut candidate in 1987.
He flew on space shuttle missions STS-45
(1993) and STS-63
(1995). In the last mission he undertook a four-hour EVA.
He was then selected for an extended mission aboard the Russian Mir Space Station. Launched by STS-84
and returned by STS-86, Foale spent four months on Mir in 1997 during the Mir 23
and Mir 24
missions. During Mir 23, the station's Spektr module was struck by a Progress resupply vessel. It was Foale's knowledge and calculations that stopped the resulting roll and avoided the likely loss of the Mir Space Station (and possibly even the crew). Foale and Russian cosmonaut Solovyev later conducted a six-hour EVA to inspect and repair the damage to the Spektr module. For his efforts, he was awarded the Yuri A. Gagarin Gold Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
In 1999, Foale was a member of space shuttle mission STS-103, during which he conducted an eight-hour spacewalk to replace components of the Hubble Space Telescope.
In 2003, Foale was named Commander of International Space Station Expedition 8
with cosmonaut Kaleri. Launched aboard a Soyuz rocket, their six-month tour of duty on the station ended on 29 April 2004.
For about a year, Foale was Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA HQ Exploration Operations
in Washington D.C. He then supported Soyuz and ISS operations and spacesuit development for NASA in Houston before retiring from NASA.