43 year old Tim Peake from Chichester, West Sussex became the first British man in space having blasted off at 11:03 GMT on 15th December from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The Soyuz capsule docked with the International Space Station at 17:34 GMT and, after 3 and a half hours of waiting, Peake emerged through the airlock at 20:53 GMT.
Tim’s journey to space extended far beyond the cramped 6 hour journey from the surface of the Earth. After 3 years as a successful test pilot with the RAF, he applied to the ESA (European Space Agency) for astronaut training in 2009. He was one of only 6 chosen from 8,000 applicants who were selected for the program following extensive mental and physical tests. Subsequently, he resigned from the RAF to begin astronaut training in the hope of fulfilling his dream of one day looking back at planet Earth from space.
“I want to go with Daddy”
Training was intense and wide ranging. Along with constant physical training in preparation for weightless conditions, mental exercises were also needed to ready Peake for the cramped and solitary conditions aboard the ISS. In 2011, he and 5 other trainee astronauts lived underground without contact with the outside world as part of a study into how humans react in small groups such as a small colony that could potentially live on Mars. In 2012, Peake and 3 other crew members spent 11 days as aquanauts 3 and a half miles below the coast of Florida in the NEEMO Aquarius Underwater Laboratory in order to become accustomed to performing experiments in a similar cramped environment to the ISS. He was also required to learn Russian as the Soyuz capsule is run by a Russian ground crew.
“The three man crew was a fantastic reflection of international space co-operation”
He was finally selected for a mission aboard the international space station in 2013 after the British government agreed to fund his flight. After two years of waiting, Peake arrived at the launch site at 8:30 GMT on 15th December. In an emotional goodbye to his family, his son was heard saying “I want to go with Daddy”. Once strapped into their seats, the crew had a tense 1 hour wait while final checks were completed. The 3 man crew was a fantastic reflection of international space co-operation, being made up of Peake from Britain, Commander Yuri Malenchenko of Russia and American engineer Tim Kopra. The take-off came and went without a glitch and Peake’s wife and two sons waved him off on his short journey into space (a mere 250 miles upwards – approximately the distance from London to Scarborough beach).
After 6 hours, the travelers had arrived at their new home – 400m of gravity free corridors moving at 17,500mph complete with two toilets, a gym and one hell of a view. As the capsule approached, nerves were ruffled after the automatic guidance system malfunctioned meaning Malenchenko had to quickly take manual control. It is incredibly rare for such a problem to occur. Astronauts are thoroughly trained for such an event but would not be expecting to have to use that training. However, there was no need for panic as Malenchenko docked the capsule perfectly.
“Hello Tim. I think you would call today a spectacular day in the office”
Three hours later, the temperature and pressure in both the ISS and the capsule had equalized and the team was ready to emerge from their transport and join the 3 other astronauts already aboard the ISS. They received a very warm welcome then headed straight through to the control room to talk to mission control and have a brief chat with their families. The head of the ESA asked Tim “You chose the window seat. What was the view like?” He replied “It was a beautiful launch… That first sunrise was absolutely spectacular – and we also got a moonrise on the first orbit as well. It was beautiful to see.” His mother brought things down to Earth a little: “Hello Tim. I think you would call today a spectacular day in the office.” His reply: “Hi Mum. Yes. We had a great time in the office that’s for sure.”
After a well deserved sleep, Tim’s real mission will begin. The ESA has an entire laboratory of its own aboard the ISS that he will be in charge of for the next few months. Ongoing experiments include studies into brain fluid and metal alloys. He will also quite literally be putting himself under the microscope as he will study the effect that zero g has on his own body. This research will aid any future hopes of further space exploration. When not hard at work, Tim hopes to enjoy the view, enjoy the new Star Wars film which will be beamed live to the ISS from the premier and is also in training to complete the London marathon. He won’t be back in time to run it on the streets of London, so a treadmill on the ISS will have to do.
“I hope that there’s never a time again when all human beings are on the Earth.”
Peake will be returning in June but he hopes that space travel will continue far into the future. He recently said “the ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000. This means that at no time in the past 15 years has every member of the human race been living on the planet. I hope that there’s never a time again when all human beings are on the Earth.”
Image from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills via Flickr