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Professor Cox gives us sneak Peake at historic mission to space

As this British astronaut prepares for lift-off, Keeley Bolger blasts through some of the key facts about his historic space mission

Published 12/12/2015

Professor Brian Cox
Professor Brian Cox

The new Star Wars film - The Force Awakens - is about to hit the big screen, but, before that, something even more exciting is happening in outer space. Next Tuesday, our very own Tim Peake is set to make history when he launches into space on a six-month mission for the European Space Agency (ESA).

The astronaut will be the first Briton to serve a mission on the International Space Station (ISS) on a Government-sponsored assignment.

Exciting stuff, but with Peake in space and us still down on Earth, how will we stay updated on his progress?

To keep us abreast of the action, BBC One and Two are showing a series of special programmes, including one on launch day, hosted by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain, using live link-ups to cameras in the rocket.

Before Major Peake blasts off, let's take a look at the ins and outs of the historic event:

WHO IS TIM PEAKE?

Chichester-born Peake (43) is a married father-of-two who worked as an Army Air Corps officer for many years.

During his career he has served as a reconnaissance pilot and flight commander, qualified as a helicopter flying instructor and worked as a military training officer, retiring from the Army in 2009 after 17 years of service.

Not one for taking a leisurely rest, though, Peake spent three years training as an astronaut at the ESA and was selected for this mission in 2013.

Very physically active outside of work, he enjoys caving, cross-country running, climbing and triathlon.

WHAT MAKES THIS LAUNCH DIFFERENT?

Other UK-born astronauts have gone into orbit through Nasa, or on independent ventures with assistance from the Russian Space Agency. What makes Peake's mission unique is that it's a UK Government sponsored programme. He is also the first British citizen to be selected for astronaut training by the ESA - and the first UK astronaut in space for more than 20 years.

WILL HE BE ALONE?

No. Keeping Peake company are NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

WHAT WILL THEY BE DOING IN SPACE?

Peake is going to be in space for a whopping six months, during which time he'll be working on a scientific assignment.

Called Principia, after Sir Isaac Newton's groundbreaking text outlining the laws of motion and gravity, the mission will involve conducting a large number of experiments, including growing blood vessel cells, protein crystals and rocket leaves in weightless conditions, and investigating the properties of metals.

WHAT PREPARATION HAVE THEY DONE?

In the run-up to the launch, all three astronauts have been preparing for the experiments, plus they've undergone medical check-ups and extreme physical training to prepare them for the conditions they will face in outer space.

They've also been trained to perform spacewalks, in case they should need to exit the space station to carry out works, or repairs on the outside.

Peake has also been learning to speak Russian, but admits he's not a "natural linguist".

WHAT ARE HIS BIGGEST CHALLENGES?

Well, not the ones you might expect - the loneliness, danger and fear of the unknown - but keeping the toilet in working order.

"It might not seem like a very glamorous task for an astronaut but we do spend an awful lot of time fixing the loo," Peake told schoolchildren in September.

Wondering how the loo manages to flush in zero gravity?

"In terms of using it, it's really very straightforward. It just uses air suction and a big fan to keep everything going in the right direction," Peake explained.

HOW IS HE FEELING ABOUT IT?

Nervous, excited, thrilled ... all that and more.

"On launch day, of course there's going to be some apprehension,'' Peake said in an interview recently.

"You're sat on top of 300 tonnes of fuel and you're basically just going to be focused on the mission and what's to come.

"It's important to say goodbye to friends and family and just draw a line and really focus on the mission ahead."

WHAT WILL BE ON TV?

There will also be a Horizon special offering an insight into the lives of all the astronauts and a raft of special programmes on the mission for children.

On launch day itself, Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain will present Blast Off Live: A Stargazing Special from the Science Museum in London. Cameras will show footage of Peake from his capsule before and during his blast-off.

Later, O'Briain and Cox will reunite to give the latest coverage, tracking Peake as he docks his Soyuz capsule with the ISS. Peake will then speak from on board the ISS for the first time.

MARATHON CHALLENGE

As if it's not enough of an endurance test that he's heading into space, Peake has decided to take part in the London Marathon, by running the 26.2 miles strapped to a treadmill while 250 miles above Earth.

"One of the biggest challenges I'll be facing is the harness system," he has said.

"I would float if I didn't strap myself down to the treadmill, so I have to wear a harness system that's a bit similar to a rucksack. I don't think I'll be setting any personal bests. I've set myself a goal of anywhere between three-and-a-half to four hours."

  • Horizon Tim Peake Special: How To Be An Astronaut, BBC Two, tomorrow, 8pm; Blast Off Live: A Stargazing Special, BBC One, Tuesday, 10.30am/7pm

Belfast Telegraph

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