"We always talk about seeing the view of planet Earth and how beautiful it is and you come to expect that. But what people don't mention that much is when you look in the opposite direction and you see how dark space is.
It is just the blackest black and that was a real surprise to me."
At 11:03am on Tuesday 15 December, British astronaut Tim Peake was blasted into space and well on his way to the International Space Station. The mission, named Principia in homage to Sir Isaac Newton’s work on the laws of gravity, is set to last 173 days, with Major Tim and his crew returning to Earth on 5 June 2016.
Although you may have caught the beautiful launch of the Russian Soyuz rocket on the news, the reasons behind Tim Peake’s journey into space are equally as fascinating.
Who is Major Tim Peake?
Although Yorkshire-born Helen Sharman was the first Briton in space after visiting the Mir Space Station in 1991, Tim Peake is the first British Citizen to visit the International Space Station. He is also the only publically funded Briton in space, and the first British astronaut to be employed by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Before venturing into the world of space travel and rockets, Tim Peake was a helicopter pilot for the British Army, later becoming a helicopter test pilot; a test pilot is widely recognised as a very fast-paced and dangerous career, desensitising him to the prospect of hurtling into the unknown, surely.
In the year of his retirement, he applied, along with more than 8,000 other candidates, for a chance to train as an astronaut with the European Space Agency. After a very intense selection process, Tim Peake trained alongside a group of elite hopefuls for 28 months – he had to master Russian, familiarise himself with underwater space walks and learn how to fly a rocket.
What will Major Tim Peake get up to in the International Space Station?
The mission is loosely divided into two main objectives.
Tim will be actively inspiring a new generation of astronauts, eager to spark a passion for science and technology. This will be achieved by engaging with schools and members of the public using social media.
The Astro Pi Mission is a brilliant example of this. Two augmented Raspberry Pi computers were flown to the International Space Station, as part of Tim Peake’s mission. To capture the attention of schoolchildren, Raspberry Pi held a competition for students to develop their own science experiments for Tim to run once aboard the International Space Station! Seven lucky children had their programs blasted off into space, where Tim will run each experiment in sequence. The results of these experiments will be available online once the crew safely returns to Earth.
Alongside this, Tim will be participating in a huge amount of experiments, acting as a human guinea pig for some. He will be studied to help scientists back on Earth understand the impact of long-term space travel on the human body. Although a mission of six months is hardly long-term, the physiological experiments will help provide an insight into what space flight does to the human body and how it can be prevented.
Tim will be studying the immune system, the loss of cartilage and bone mass, nutritional needs, muscle biopsies, the human body clock and the process of aging. The results of these experiments will help future scientists and astronauts combat the effects of space travel on the human body, which is a necessary step before considering long-term missions further afield, such as Mars.
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