We’re sure his spaceship knows which way to go: wishing Tim Peake a safe journey and a productive and inspiring mission
Many eyes in the UK will be looking skyward today, following Major Tim Peake’s trajectory from Azerbaijan to low Earth orbit and his home for the next six months aboard the International Space Station. As I wrote this, Peake’s Soyuz had successfully lifted off from Baikonur and was making it way through the statosphere. Peake isn’t the first Briton in Space; that honour went to chemist Helen Sharman, who spent eight days aboard the former Soviet space Station Mir in 1991; but Peake is the first Briton to be an official ESA astronaut and, therefore the first to visit space without a private contract.
Having watched the BBC Horizon special on Major Peake, I have to applaud his bravery: being a notorious coward and vertigo-sufferer myself, I don’t think I’d even be able to make it to the top of the Soyuz rocket, let alone state that a spacewalk (something that, if not scheduled as part of an experiment, only tends to happen if emergency repairs are needed) would be the highlight of his mission. I couldn’t make it onto the catwalk that accesses the dish of the Lovell Telescope; the mere thought of stepping out of an orbiting spacecraft makes my skin creep. But Major Peake has spent several years as a helicopter test-pilot for the British Army: facing risk is the sort of thing he enjoys.
There’s no technology innovation aspect to Major Peake’s mission, which is why we haven’t featured it in our main coverage (although, as with pretty much every ISS mission these days, a portion of it will be concerned with how astronauts will cope with anticipated journeys to Mars; something we’ll be covering in depth in our first issue of 2016). Nevertheless, we’re certain that engineers are among those taking the closest interest in Mission Principia, as Major Peake’s journey is known, and will want to join us in wishing him Bon Voyage and a safe and productive stay on ISS. It’s my particular hope that he emulates the most noted astronaut of recent years, the Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield, and becomes a figure who inspires and enthuses young people into taking an interest in STEM. It would also be remiss of me to point our that the ISS will be visible from the UK on the evening of Christmas Eve: look up at 5.20pm and you should see it passing overhead if the skies are clear; it’s very bright and moves quickly. Give Tim a wave and tell your kids he’s following Father Christmas for a bit.