Tim Peake to blast off on mission that's out of this world
An astronaut who has spent hundreds of hours in space will be in town today to celebrate the launch of the Principia space mission which will see Tim Peake becoming the European Space Agency's first British spaceman.
The mission blasts off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11.03am today.
The three-man crew to the International Space Station includes NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.
W5 in Belfast will be marking the occasion with an all-day event of curated space activities and experiments, as well as streaming a live feed of the launch and docking.
Adding to the excitement will be the presence of acclaimed European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, veteran of three NASA Space Shuttle Missions who has spent more than 600 hours in space.
Mike McKay from the European Space Agency said he hopes the event will help encourage youngsters to consider reaching for the stars.
"We are extremely excited to be part of this great event in Belfast. We hope the mission will encourage potential young astronauts to really push the boundaries of learning and reach for the stars," he said.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield, who became famous for his views of earth and videos of playing his guitar in space, says just getting to the space station could be an ordeal but that once there, Peake will have access to "the greatest laboratory in the universe".
He said the journey peaks at 17,500mph which is fast enough to fly from London to Edinburgh in 85 seconds.
He says once there: "The first thing to do is get changed from your pressure suit into your flight suit. Then you start moving in and that's fun. Alcohol and space travel generally don't mix, but there can be sober initiations for arrivals.
"The existing crew might float water in the air and tell you to drink it," Hadfield said.
"You can squeeze a ball of water as big as a tennis ball out of a drink bag, but as soon as it touches your lips it spreads over your whole face and doesn't go in your mouth."
He urged Peake to savour the experience.
Hadfield describes ISS, which has roughly the living space of one-and-a-half jumbo jets, as "like a connected series of well-lit caves".
"It's very disorienting, with no up or down, so in that way it's more like exploring a sequence of well-lit caves while scuba diving," he said. He said when Peake gets his first spare moment he should take a look at the world.
"It's too much at first; it's like walking into the Louvre at eight kilometres a second - you're going to miss things. But you'll spend a lot of time here trying to get to know our planet; this new understanding of our world will be the most profound part of your experience."
The W5 event is funded by the UK Space Agency which will be holding celebratory launch events across the UK.
Also celebrating the much-anticipated launch will be the Armagh Planetarium which will open late to allow attendees to observe the Soyuz capsule docking at the International Space Station via telescope.
These local events are a great build-up towards the forthcoming Northern Ireland Science Festival which this year is themed around space technology and exploration. The Science Festival takes place throughout Northern Ireland from February 18 to 28, 2016.
To find out more about events today, log on to https://principia.org.uk/events/northen-ireland-launch-event/ or visit www.w5online.co.uk.