Countdown begins for Chichester’s astronaut

Chichester Astronaut Timothy Peake during training inside the full-scale mockup of the Soyuz capsule, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, in Russia, on 15 October 2014. SUS-141224-104133001
Chichester Astronaut Timothy Peake during training inside the full-scale mockup of the Soyuz capsule, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, in Russia, on 15 October 2014. SUS-141224-104133001

MOST of us will be setting ourselves goals for the year today but Tim Peake’s long-held dream of going to space is set to become a reality.

At the end of November he will begin a long-duration mission to the International Space Station. He will be the first British ESA astronaut to visit the space station where he says he will witness 16 sunrises and sunsets a day.

Before enjoying a well-earned Christmas break with his young family, he spoke to the Observer about his intensive training for the six-month trip and his joy at being selected.

“It is a dream come true,” said Tim, speaking from America.

“But on a day-to-day basis in Houston it’s easy for it to become normal because I’m in an office working with 50 to 60 other astronauts all doing the same thing.

“You can’t be living your life thinking every day is bizarre and unreal.

“But there are occasions, like every time I put on a space suit, when suddenly it hits you, I’ll be doing this in less than 12 months. It’s just incredible.”

Before Christmas, the 42-year-old completed his final exams in emergency training to ensure he knows how to cope with scenarios such as a fire or gas leak.

He has just enjoyed a rare few days off, spending Christmas with his wife and sons, Thomas and Oliver aged five and three, who live with him in Houston.

But he’s straight back to work in the new year when he will continue his training in Japan.

The former Chichester High School pupil listed a few of the many elements of the mission he is most looking forward to.

“There are 16 sunrises and sun sets every day. So I’m looking forward to having a coffee break and stopping to watch one,” he said.

Two other things he’s looking forward to are the launch and the return to earth, despite what he has experienced in simulators in Moscow and been told by his astronaut colleagues.

He explained that the craft goes through a number of stages on its descent.

It starts to break apart as it enters the earth’s atmosphere and the capsule is the only part which returns back to earth.

Tim said: “They’ve described it as a series of car crashes one after the other. Generally speaking, it’s like the world is a roller coaster magnified one hundred times.

“After being in zero gravity for six months it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest and it’s hard to breath. We’ve practiced breathing. You have to almost gulp air down.

“The parachute is released and it starts the capsule spinning wildly. Finally the rockets burst and safely landing thrusts burst just before impact which are meant to cushion the blow. But everyone says the landing is like a car crash.”

Tim is a former Apache helicopter pilot who had to fight off more than 8,000 applicants to get this once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to space.

He has been in training since 2010 and is fully prepared for a tough time on his return.

“Most people are putting on a false smile when they come out (after landing)” he said.

“Next will be the over-riding sensation of all the sights and sounds you haven’t experienced for six months.

“It’s two hours after you land you start to feel terrible.”

Despite all this knowledge, the only thing Tim is worried about is ensuring he makes it to launch day in full health.

“I’ve been working towards this for so long now, with less than 12 months to go I’m very cautious.”

Tim has taken part in a number of educational outreach programmes in the run-up to the launch in order to help give school children around he country projects which relate to his mission.

A competition was held by the UK Space Agency – The Great British Space Dinner – inviting children to suggest meals for him to eat on the space station. The winning ideas are being developed by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal to ensure they can be transported and stored as required in space.

He said the dishes on offer should be ‘some of the best meals he has eaten’.

Tim will only be allowed to take one shoebox of personal items with him so will be taking up photos of his family and an iPod filled with music which he said will be ‘essential’.

His only trip back to the UK is likely to be one week in March but, unfortunately, he will not be visiting home as he will be speaking to the media in London.