Tim Peake: I've never met an astronaut who doesn't want to go back to space

Tim Peake: I've never met an astronaut who doesn't want to go back to space

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Tim Peake in conversation with Tim Davie (Credit: RTS/Paul Hampartsoumian)
Tim Peake in conversation with Tim Davie (Credit: RTS/Paul Hampartsoumian)

To say that British astronaut Tim Peake is a rock star is undeniable but perhaps that is being too generous to most rock stars. 

On the evidence of a joint RTS/IET encounter with Peake, Life, the Universe and Beyond With Tim Peake, the first Brit to walk in space is charismatic, modest and empathetic.

As the evening’s host BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie noted, Peake also possesses rare gifts as a communicator and educator.

Asked to explain the secret of this ability to engage children and adults in the extraordinary achievements of space exploration, Peake was noticeably down to earth. 

“I have to make things simple for myself. When someone gives me a complex subject I need to study it, bring it down and understand how and why it works.

“That’s how I go about all the topics….If I try and explain it how I understand it, then other people can understand it too.”

This is a man who not only learnt to Russian as part of his journey into space – all the controls of the Soyuz spacecraft that got him to the space station are in Russian - but who also has a firm grasp of the science and technology that are fundamental to space flight.

Peake told the RTS/IET audience – who frankly could have listened to him talk all night – how it had taken around six months for his body to return to normal following his return to earth.

One problem was regaining bone density. Despite running the London Marathon in space, albeit on a treadmill, Peak’s bones took time to recover from being in a gravity-free environment for half a year.

Asked by Davie what was the one moment he would never forget from his time spent in space, he singled out his spacewalk. 

“When Tim Kopra (one of Peake’s fellow astronauts) and I were at the furthest edge of the space station,” he said.

Spacewalks are essential to maintaining the International Space Station. Peake was sent out to repair an item (a sequential shunt unit) crucial to maintaining the craft’s power supply.

So what is it like to walk in space? “It’s a bit like rock climbing, you study and analyse the route out there.

“It’s quite difficult getting all the way out there past a number of different obstacles.”

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Further probing by Davie revealed that Major Peake had just ten minutes to complete the repair – or risk being electrocuted as the sun came up and activated the solar panels.

While risk taking appears to be part of Peake’s DNA, astronauts that carry out spacewalks have the benefit of a space suit covered in 14 layers of various materials to protect them from the elements.         

And in case an astronaut drifts away, small thruster jets housed in their backpack can manoeuvre them back to safety. That, at any rate, is the theory.

“During our training we were exposed to real risk, but the level of risk you feel out on the spacewalk is much, much greater.  You are completely at the mercy of your equipment,” explained Peake.

The education programme at the heart of Peake’s mission was something that clearly meant a great deal to him.

Some of the children who followed Peake’s progress in space, both in the classroom and on shows like the BBC's Blue Peter, attended the RTS/IET event.

One of them asked his hero what it was like to experience zero gravity.

“It’s very difficult to describe what zero gravity is like,” admitted Peake. “If you imagine now that we are weightless this room it would be scary because it’s so big and we would be floating with no handles to hang on to.

“Loads of us would get stuck in the middle of the room. You need to completely readjust your whole way of seeing things.

“But the plus side is we’re all sitting in this tiny volume here but imagine if you could use the volume of this room for things like storage units and extra seats.

“That’s what we do on the space station. It does take a while to get used to zero gravity. On the first few days on the space station it is not uncommon for astronauts to get a little bit lost.

“You come out of a module and everything is upside down. You have to spend a few seconds re-orientating your mind.

“What’s amazing about the human brain is how quickly it adapts to that and before long your brain can just flip things

“It’s very easy for you to be able to work upside down. So you end up coping quite well after just a short period of time.”

And is Peake itching to get back into space? "Absolutely. I've never met an astronaut who isn't"

 

 

Life, the Universe and Beyond With Tim Peake was a joint RTS/IET event held at the IET, Savoy Place, London, on October 25. The producer was Helen Scott. The drinks reception was sponsored by Akamai.

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To say that British astronaut Tim Peake is a rock star is undeniable but perhaps that is being too generous to most rock stars.