Major Timothy Peake has been training for space underwater in Germany to prepare for work in zero gravity. The British astronaut who is set to go into space next year said that learning how to live and work in space will be essential to the future survival of our species.
Tim Peake will be spending six months on the International Space Station (I.S.S.) in November or December of next year. He will travel on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan… and could eat a meal chosen by the public. With nearly two decades as an Army Air Corps pilot behind him, plus a degree in flight dynamics, Major Peake went through a year-long selection process with the European Space Agency before he was chosen. He has been undergoing intensive training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, in Germany, to prepare for the mission.
The European Astronaut Centre in Cologne
The European Astronaut Centre is located in the outskirts of the city of Cologne, in the midst of a desolate industrial complex.
Inside, the vast hall of the astronaut training centre appears like an untidy giant’s playroom, strewn with life-sized replicas of parts of the I.S.S., including a true-to-life representation of the Columbus module, which is Europe’s laboratory in space.
Once there was a time when all you needed to be an astronaut was to be very brave. Now you need to be able to do much more. And there’s a lot of unglamorous work to do…
Inside a detailed mock-up of the International Space Station’s science lab, Tim Peake is taught how to take apart a smoke detector and change its filter. Routine maintenance will be a large part of his job.
The former helicopter pilot is also learning how to be a scientist. It is hoped that he will be carrying out a number of British-led experiments that would include finding out how microbes grow in space and creating new types of metal alloys in zero gravity.
The ISS is now the orbiting laboratory it was designed to be but many leading researchers say that the projects that will be undertaken on board won’t be cutting edge.
“It is definitely cutting-edge science,” Tim protested. “Some of the things we are doing on the space station are absolutely remarkable. We are finding things about our bodies that we genuinely had no ideas about before.”
Human Guinea-Pigs On Board The ISS
Currently, astronauts normally don’t spend more than six months on the ISS because of exposure to radiation and bone loss caused by weightlessness. It is the debilitating effects of long-duration space missions that is one of the main obstacles to sending humans to Mars.
Speaking candidly, Tim said that among the astronaut corps, there was a firm belief that one among their number would, in the not-too-distant future, journey to another world in our Solar System: “We are being trained for these kinds of missions on the new launch systems.”
“It’s easy to dismiss this stuff about ‘Moon, Mars and Beyond’ as NASA propaganda. But they are taking it seriously and I think it really will happen,” he added.
Whether it’s an asteroid mission or a Moon mission, the ultimate aim is the future exploration of the Solar System and to get to Mars on a manned mission. Humanity’s aim is to explore the Solar System, not just for the sake of exploration, but for the sake of our own survival in the future.
Reaching Out to Space and Inspiring People on the Ground
Beneath Tim’s easy manner is an ice-cool nerve, demonstrated most clearly on the day that his mission was announced. It is because of this that the nation is likely to empathise with him and through his eyes we will witness the wonders of a mission to the International Space Station.
Major Peake was quizzed on Newsnight about the value of his mission by Jeremy Paxman. Very few have matched the formidable presenter when he has been in full cry. But Tim Peake handled the grilling with aplomb. He came across as incredibly nice and refreshingly “normal”.
Major Tim Peake wants everyone to be part of his ground control team: “We are going to get the public involved in naming the mission, designing the badge for the mission and doing things like designing a meal for an astronaut for a day that will get cooked and sent up for me to eat.”
The idea behind creating a meal for Tim is to get people thinking about science through nutrition, minerals and calorific content. There will be activities involving sport and exercise, too.
As it is customary for the public to help select a new mission name every time a European astronaut goes into orbit, eligible citizens and residents of all the European Space Agency’s member nations are invited to enter the competition.
The winning entry must be short and easy to pronounce. It will be the official mission name and incorporated into the logo. Names that reflect an astronaut’s nationality are encouraged, but they should also have a wider European flavour. A short-list will be passed on to Major Peake who makes the final choice.
Previous mission names have included “Marco Polo” in honour of the Italian Astronaut Roberto Vittori, “Odissia” for Belgian Frank de Winne, and “DELTA Mission” for Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers’ flight to the ISS. DELTA was actually an acronym for “Dutch Expedition for Life Science, Technology and Atmospheric Research”.
Early favourites include “Beagle 3” – a successor to “Beagle 2”, which was the name of the UK’s inspirational, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to put a probe on the surface of Mars, and “Starman” – inspired by the song of that name by David Bowie. In the UK, Tim Peake is often referred to simply as “Major Tim”, which references a character from another Bowie hit – “Space Oddity“. Another suggestion is a name that would celebrate UK science and reflect the microgravity experiments that Tim will be conducting on the ISS might be “Newton”.
“I certainly hope that the mission will have an inspirational effect,” says Tim.
Training for Space Cadets of the Future…
At the same time, the space engineers of the future are being encouraged to think about a career in this stimulating and fast-moving industrial sector. Despite the economic downturn, the space industry has shown significant and rapid growth, and it needs highly skilled technicians in a number of engineering disciplines, if it is to sustain that growth. The Royal Astronomical Society says this demand is not currently being met.
The UK’s space industry is expected to be worth £30 billion in the next two decades. This technology has a huge impact on everyday life, although many people may be surprised to hear it. But it really makes sense when you think about it…
The growth of the space industry is fuelled by increasing demand from consumers for satellite TV and radio, mobile phone services, GPS navigation systems, and from the government for emergency services and security, for air traffic management or to monitor weather events and global climate change. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says this demand will lead to continued and sustained growth between now and 2030. There will be opportunities for a new generation of apprentices working in this field to be involved in some innovative and exciting projects.
Currently, graduates emerge from university without the skills mix required for space engineering. But now, training for space is on the curriculum. The first degree-level apprenticeship training for space engineering skills has been announced to encourage more scientists and engineers to get involved. Loughborough College, the National Space Academy and the University of Leicester will provide the education for the programme. Apprentices are being invited to take a giant leap for mankind and sign up for the elite space engineering training.
Maybe it’s your turn to change the World!