When he blasts off into space, Chichester’s Major Tim Peake will make history as he becomes the first British astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS).
Yet one of Tim’s last requests before he set off to space was to sit down and have a nice English afternoon tea.
And the Chichester astronaut’s father says when he comes home, he’s ‘just Tim’ and enjoys nothing more than going to the pub for a drink with his friends.
Now with the countdown under way to Tim’s Principia mission, the Observer at the incredible journey of the 43-year-old – from humble beginnings growing up in Westbourne and attending Chichester High School for Boys, to being whittled down from more than 8,000 candidates to become an astronaut – and all from an advertisement he saw online.
Speaking to the Observer from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, where he is in quarantine, Tim also said he would be ‘honoured’ to take part in a parade through Chichester when he returns home.
The idea came from eight-year-old Rufus Knight, a pupil at Oakwood School, who met his hero at a press conference in November – and boldly asked him to take part in a ticker-tape parade through his home city when he returns from space.
Tim told the Observer: “It was great to meet Rufus, he is a great guy and asked really good questions.
“It was really fun talking to him, and I was honoured by his suggestion of a parade.
“I am very fond of Chichester, it is my home city, where I was born and went to school.
“I would be delighted to come back to Chichester when I return from the ISS.”
During the Principia mission, which pays homage to Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking text, Tim will have dozens of scientific experiments carried out on his body – all of which can only be carried out in microgravitiy.
Tim will launch in a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, this morning and he is due to return to Earth on June 5, 2016.
Tim’s mother and father Angela and Nigel, who still live in the Peake family home in Westbourne, recalled how Tim excelled during his time at Chichester High School for Boys – and would attempt to copy the Tom Cruise film Cocktail while working as a bartender in Chichester pub, The Nags Head.
Angela said the close-knit community and the support he received growing up had helped him achieve his dreams.
“A lot of the things Tim is doing as part of this mission is all to help children.
“I think he is very appreciative of all the people in his life who had an influence on him,” said Angela.
“We had a village policeman who kept an eye on the children growing up, and we also had two teachers living here, it was a very close-knit community.
“Tim still has very close friends here who are all very supportive of him and I think that keeps your feet on the ground.
“Sometimes those people in the community get no thanks for what they do.”
Angela added: “Everybody wants me to say Tim was ‘extraordinary’ from the word go, but he really was just like everybody else.
“He was always interested in trying new things.
“It was quite hard to keep up with him sometimes and when he tried it, he would move onto the next thing.
“I was worried he would always do that, but when he got to high school he joined the cadet force which focused his mind and he knew then that he wanted to join the army.
“I think from the word go, flying was what he wanted to do.”
Between finishing school and going to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, Tim worked in The Nags Head pub to earn some extra cash.
“The Tom Cruise film Cocktail was popular at the time so they used to play around, trying to copy him,” said Angela.
Not only will father-of-two Tim be spending Christmas on the ISS, but he will be celebrating his 44th birthday there as well.
Tim’s primary school reports
Tim’s father, Nigel, said his teachers picked up at an early age how ‘resilient’ Tim was.
“He always persevered – however difficult it was he would finish his task.
“I think it is interesting they picked that up at primary school. If he decided to do something, he would see it through. In his primary school report going back to when he was about ten, they picked him out as a ‘sensible level-headed boy’.
“Tim was involved in normal village activities but the army became his ambition after the cadet force which he joined at the age of about 11.
“He loved to get out even if it was playing football on Westbourne common, or going to the Witterings.
“Another of his favourite places growing up was Kingley Vale.
“He started in the army air corps after Sandhurst and was in the army for 18 years, working as a test pilot before finishing in 2008.
“He saw an advertisement online asking people, ‘would you like to be an astronaut’ – it was as simple as that.
“He thought it sounded exciting and would apply – but so did 8,000 other people – the chances were very remote. The selection process took a year and he got down to the final ten.
“At first it was surreal knowing he’d be going to space, then we thought if anybody can do it, Tim can.
“Tim takes everything in his stride. He really isn’t scared, that’s just him.”
TIM’S parents last saw him at the beginning of November, before he set off for Russia for final training for his mission.
They will get to see him before he leaves Kazakhstan today, though they will say goodbye behind a glass pane as Tim will be in ‘quarantine’ to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
Angela added: “We were with his sister and we asked him what he would like to do. He asked if we could go somewhere nice for tea. We went to a hotel and had a proper afternoon tea, which is something we’d never done before.”
“That was his last taste of English tea for six months,” added Nigel.
“He was noticed in a coffee shop on his last day in the UK,” said Angela. “I think people see the red hair now and after all the publicity, know who he is.”
Nigel added: “Chichester High School for Boys has always been very supportive of Tim. It’s lovely, really.
“One of his official missions is as an ambassador for space, science and engineering in the UK, particularly to promote in secondary schools, getting both girls and boys interested in space.
“His physics teacher is still at the school, Mike Gouldstone. He was incredibly supportive of Tim and I think he is very keen to mention him to his class!”
His parents said Tim found learning Russian the most difficult part of training.
Nigel said: “Tim said ‘throw me down a cave, put me in the sea, put me on survival’ – for him learning Russian was the most difficult.
“So he had conversations with his sister, who studied it at university.”
Nigel and Angela said Tim ‘loves coming back to Westbourne’ and there will be a ‘grand party’ for him when he gets back in May 2016.
“They will have quite an intensive de-brief first. But we shall seek him out wherever he is,” said Nigel.
“He’s not a special star when he comes back here, he’s just Tim and they all go for a drink in the pub.”
And there is one thing Tim will make sure he does in space.
“He has confessed to being a great Star Wars fan,” said Nigel. “He will be looking for a way to watch the new film.”
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