On December 15 at 11:03 am, the world looked on as the European Space Agency launched British astronaut, Tim Peake and his team into space to take up residence at the International Space Station until June 2016. Victoria Fitzgerald provides an update on the mission so far.
Late last year, millions of people all over the UK watched in awe as Tim Peake, the first British astronaut for more than 20 years, was launched along with his crewmates, Tim Kopra and Yuri Malenchenko, into space from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The team reached their destination after just four orbits around the Earth and docked at 17:33 GMT on December 15. They were welcomed aboard the International Space Station at 19:58 by Russian cosmonauts, Mikhail Korniyenko and Sergey Volkov, and NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly.
Principia – a name inspired by Newton’s pioneering text on physics, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – will see Peake spend six months in space, where the team will conduct several unique experiments, which will collect data for use in future space missions, as well as provide valuable information on space’s effect on the astronauts’ bodies.
The tests will include trying to grow blood vessels and protein crystals; simulating atomic structures; monitoring areas in the brain as they adapt to intense conditions; using a furnace to melt and cool metal alloys as they float in mid-air; as well as remotely controlling a robot in Stevenage from the Space Station.
Peake has already taken part in a spacewalk and is set to simultaneously run the London Marathon on April 24 from a treadmill on the ISS.
One small step
On Friday December 12, Peake and fellow astronaut Tim Kopra completed a spacewalk that saw the pair successfully replace the Sequential Shunt Unit, an electrical box which controls the voltage from the Space Station’s solar arrays.
In November last year, one of the station’s eight power channels was compromised when the SSU malfunctioned. After finishing the task Peake tweeted “Today’s exhilarating #spacewalk will be etched in my mind forever – quite an incredible feeling.”
However, their expedition was cut short after Kopra reported a “small amount” of water in his helmet, which resulted in the walk being terminated early after 4 & 3/4 hours.
Earth to Tim
During Principia’s mission the UK Space Agency will be running a £3m programme of education and outreach activities aimed at getting young people excited about space and STEM subjects.
The agency has created an activity pack, interactive lesson resources and lesson plans to encourage excitement about space in the classroom.
As part of the mission’s collaboration with education, Peake will be regularly contacted by school children, who will question him on his assignment.
The first of these contacts came from pupils at Sandringham School in St Albans on January 8. Jessica Leigh was the first student to communicate with Peake.
Leigh told the Herts Advertiser that the experience had been “surreal” and that it seemed “crazy” that she was “talking to someone 400km from earth”.
Jeremy Curtis, head of Education and Skills for UK Space Agency, told The Manufacturer about the importance of using Peake’s accomplishments to publicise the value in STEM for young people.
He said, “We have emphasised at every point in the Principia campaign that Tim could not have got to this point without a solid grounding in STEM subjects at school and beyond.
“We believe students understand that, and through the education projects we are funding they are getting to see why science and technology affect their lives – whether through the food they eat and the exercise they do, or by programming Astro Pi computers or even making films about space.”
Keeping the momentum
Peake’s expedition has whipped up a veritable media storm since late-2015, but is this peak of inflated expectation destined to be followed by a trough of disillusionment?
UK and the International Space Station:
- November 2012 – European Space Agency (ESA) Council of Ministers: UK committed funding for the first time to the European Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS) programme and the ISS Utilisation programme.
- Pledged €16m to ELIPS over a four year period; €20m committed to ISS as a ‘one-off’ contribution.
- This was the first time Britain had been involved in a human spaceflight.
- In 2014, the UK committed £49.2m to the $100bn ISS programme
Curtis explained that the education programme created in conjunction with Principia is designed to work as a standalone project, in fact, Curtis felt that it may be more effective when the mission is over and Peake was available to “physically present” to his young supporters.
He explained, “There will be opportunities for even more engagement. In particular, we are planning a school science conference for those students who have done their own original projects that they will be able to present to an audience of their peers and experts in the field – including Tim.
“This will take place during the autumn. We want students to be treated as real scientists and engineers to get over the barrier of thinking that science is something that other people do.”
Harnessing the high-profile nature of Peake’s mission is a great way to promote careers in the sector, but the story’s extensive media interest is testament to the rarity of Peake’s achievements.
It is important to also shine a light on other areas that perhaps do not attract attention but are nonetheless well-paid, exciting and fulfilling professions.
Curtis told The Manufacturer, “At every opportunity we are trying to emphasise that while Tim has the most extraordinary job, there are actually very few opportunities for astronauts.
“Tim relies on an enormous number of people across the world who support the ISS through a vast range of different roles.
“Also, with the UK space sector growing fast, over 7% a year, it needs more and more talented and skilled people. These people will have the broadest range of skills from communications engineering and space operations to climate science, and from materials science to robotics.
“To grow the sector in the UK from the current £11.8bn turnover to £40bn by 2030, we think we will need an additional 100,000 employees – creating opportunities for skilled and imaginative people who want to use space to help people on Earth.”
Tim Peake: factfile
Born: April 7, 1972
Family: Married and has one son
Background: Peake graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1992 as an officer in the Army Air Corps. He became a helicopter flying instructor in 1998 before being selected for a post with the US Army, flying Apache helicopters. He graduated from the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) in the UK in 2005 with a degree in flight dynamics and evaluation in 2006. Peake was the senior Apache test pilot and was also the Squadron Training Officer. He has logged more than 3,000 hours flying time on more than 30 types of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft. Peake was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009.