On Friday the 6th November, journalists from all around the world gathered at London’s Science Museum to hear one man speak. He’s Major Tim Peake, and in just a few weeks he will become the first British astronaut to live on the International Space Station (ISS). Our science editor, Sam Gouldson, was there.
Tim Peake grew up in Chichester, West Sussex. From 1992 onwards he was a helicopter pilot and test pilot in the British Army, and during his career has logged over 3000 hours flying time on more than 30 kinds of helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. When he retired from the army he was looking for a new challenge, so he applied to join the astronaut programme at the European Space Agency (ESA).
There were over 8000 eligible applicants, but in May 2009 Tim was just one of 6 new astronauts chosen; the others were Samantha Cristoforetti, Alexander Gerst, Andreas Morgensen, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet. According to David Parker, the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency (UKSA), these six astronauts are collectively known as “The Shenanigans”!
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”Tim Peake” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”18″]“None of this would be possible without the efforts of many people from many nations working together”[/pullquote]On the 15th December, at 11:03 GMT, Tim will launch from Baikonur in Kazakhstan with Tim Kopra of NASA and Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos (the Russian space agency). For the last few days before launch, astronauts live separately from anyone else so they can’t get ill – you wouldn’t want to go into space with a cold!
In the hours before lift-off he will leave his quarantine quarters and get into his Sokol spacesuit. Once the suit has been pressurised and checked he’ll have a last meeting with his family, although he’ll be behind a pane of glass so they can’t give him any last-minute germs. Unfortunately this means he can’t give them any hugs either.
Tim, Tim and Yuri will then head to the launchpad, ascend to the Soyuz capsule in a lift and strap themselves in. They then have around 2.5 hours to do a leisurely pre-flight checklist; the mission commander (in this case Yuri Malenchenko) will have previously chosen some music to be piped into the capsule until the countdown begins 5 minutes before launch.
At 10:57 GMT the countdown auto-sequence begins and the launch key is inserted; at 10:58 control of the spacecraft is transferred to the astronauts, and at 11:02 the engines ignite. Just one minute later they will launch. All being well, they will rendezvous with the ISS almost 6 hours later.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”Tim Peake” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”18″]“It’s going to be an extremely busy mission”[/pullquote]While on board the ISS, Tim will be overseeing 265 different science experiments. 23 of these will be on Tim himself; as he put it “I’ll be a willing volunteer, also known as a human guinea pig!”.
These experiments aren’t just about discovering more about the effects of living in space, but will also have practical applications back on Earth. In early January the ISS will receive the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) which they will attach to the Tranquility node of the ISS; this will increase the amount of room available to the ISS crew.
Tim will also be keeping an eye on the winning experiments from the Astro-Pi competition. The data from these programs will be sent back to the schools who designed them, so that they can make any necessary modifications and analyse the data. They will then be able to instruct Tim in any changes that need to be made before the experiments are re-run.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“After a gap of 24 years since Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station, the Union flag is going to be flown and worn in space once again… There’s nothing to stop the schoolkids in Great Britain today from being amongst the first men and women to set foot on Mars”[/pullquote]
Sam asked Tim a question suggested by Cat, aged 13, about whether he stocks up on experiences before a launch – eating all his favourite foods, visiting his favourite places and so on.
He said that although he did think when he arrived in the UK on Thursday “This is the last time I’ll do this with the family for a few months” he’s mainly preparing himself mentally for the mission. Coming from a military background, he said that a 6 month deployment isn’t that long and that he’s looking forward to every moment of the experience.
Sadly, unlike Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, Tim won’t be recording a David Bowie song while in space.
8-year-old Rufus Knight, from Oakwood Prep School, asked the astronaut whether he had considered how Father Christmas is going to deliver his presents this year.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“We spend every moment that we can looking outside the windows, so as it approaches Christmas time I’ll certainly be keeping a special eye out to see if I see any unusual activity over planet Earth” [/pullquote]
Tim added that he expected his gifts to arrive on the Orbital-4 spacecraft rather than by reindeer. He also revealed that one of the special space meals designed for him by chef Heston Blumenthal and schoolchildren is a bacon sandwich, and that a Christmas pudding will be aboard Orbital-4 so he’s planning to eat those on the 25th December.
Tim also announced that he has chosen to become an ambassador for the British charity The Prince’s Trust.
“I’ve been able to realise my personal dream of becoming an astronaut and having a mission in space by having the right opportunities – yes, a lot of hard work but also yes, a lot of good luck along the way. But I’m very aware that many disadvantaged people, although very willing, do not have the right opportunities, nor do they have the help or support from others that I’ve been fortunate enough to receive.
So that’s why I’m very proud today that I’ve decided on a personal level to become an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust. The Prince’s Trust is an amazing organisation that helps young people to succeed and to realise their potential regardless of their background. The work of The Prince’s Trust really does help to change young lives and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to work with the Trust and hopefully to help change young people’s lives as well”.
For more information on Tim and his mission go to the Principia website.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”Tim Peake” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”18″]“If you work hard, aim high and follow your dreams then you can achieve what you set out to do”[/pullquote] Special events will be happening around the country to celebrate Tim’s launch on the 15th December; to find out what’s going on just click on your region here: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
This year the Royal Institutes’s Christmas Lectures will be all about how Tim and his fellow astronauts survive in space, and will be broadcast on BBC4 during the festive season.
If you want to see what the view from the ISS is like, go to the High Definition Earth-Viewing System. This website shows the views from several different cameras mounted on the outside of the ISS, and you can watch our planet as the station passes over the different countries and continents.