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'Training takes care of apprehension', British astronaut reveals ahead of launch

Published 10/12/2015

Major Peake will head into space with two crew companions, Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra
Major Peake will head into space with two crew companions, Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra

British astronaut Tim Peake says he is relaxed and ready for his historic launch into space on December 15.

Asked if he was experiencing any last-minute nerves, the former Army aviator and helicopter test pilot said: "Not in the slightest.

"Our training really takes care of any apprehension you might have."

But he confessed he was expecting to feel a little under-par in space - nausea caused by the effects of weightlessness is experienced by nearly all astronauts during their time in orbit.

A Soyuz FG rocket carrying Major Peake and his two crew companions, Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra, is set to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at around 11am, UK time.

It will take six hours for them to reach the International Space Station (ISS), where they are scheduled to spend almost six months.

When he reaches Earth orbit father-of-two "Major Tim", 43, will officially become Britain's first man in space.

He is the first professional British astronaut to be employed by the European Space Agency (Esa).

Previous "Brits in space" have either had US citizenship and worked for Nasa, or been privately funded or sponsored.

Currently "Major Tim" is in quarantine, having as little physical contact with other people as possible to minimise the risk of infection.

During this period the crew have a chance to make mental preparations for the launch, while at the same time keeping busy trying out their pressure suits in the Soyuz space capsule and receiving last minute technical briefings.

Speaking to the Press Association by phone from Kazakhstan, Major Peake said: "Quarantine is a great environment to help you focus on the mission.

"We're all feeling very relaxed.

"One thing quarantine does is really prepare you psychologically as well as physically."

He cited the docking procedure as the most hazardous part of the journey to the space station.

The rendezvous with the ISS is automated but can be carried out manually if required.

During the final approach, a probe on the end of the Soyuz-TMA space capsule carrying the crew is "captured" by the space station.

Once a tight seal is confirmed, the hatch allowing the astronauts access to the space station can be opened.

"Any time two vehicles come in close proximity in space is hazardous," Major Peake said.

"The docking needs to be closely monitored and you have to make sure you're on target and on speed."

The rocket launch itself looks spectacular but is relatively kind to the astronauts, generating acceleration forces of only about 3.5 to 4 "G".

The descent and landing at the end of the mission is a different matter, Major Peake said.

As the spacecraft "airbrakes" in the Earth's atmosphere the crew may experience forces of up to 10 G before parachuting down onto the Kazakhstan steppe desert.

Thrusters fire a second before touch-down, but the landing is still "a big thump", the astronaut said.

On the subject of sickness, Major Peake said: "It doesn't concern me in the slightest.

"I'm expecting it - every astronaut has to expect it, because it's a really unusual situation for your body to be in.

"We mitigate the effects as much as possible with medication and preparation - knowing how to move your head and body so you don't provoke the balance system.

"As a last resort, you have a sick bag."

During his spell on the space station, Major Peake will be conducting around 30 European experiments, but will participate in 265 in total.

He said: "The space station is doing science both for the future of space exploration and for the benefit of people back on Earth.

"I'm very excited about the physiological experiments on the effects of microgravity on the body, for instance looking at vision, the immune system, changes in bone structure, and asthma.

"I find all these things fascinating, and there are knock-on benefits for our ageing population.

"In a nutshell, your body is going through a rapid ageing process.

"We try to slow that down by exercise and various other measures.

"I'll be experimenting on my own body, taking all sorts of samples, and I'm having two biopsies done, before and after the mission, to look at my muscle structure.

"I'm also monitoring my cartilage, heart and eyes."

Another highlight will be an "electromagnetic levitation" experiment during which metals will be melted and mixed as they float in mid-air.

"It's incredible - we're making metals and alloys that you physically can't make on Earth," he said.

He also said he was looking forward to running the London Marathon on a treadmill aboard the space station next April.

To alleviate the boredom, he will have access to music and movies, and will also be connected to a "virtual" marathon that simulates running the race on Earth.

"I'll be looking at a screen showing the streets of London and you can see and hear people cheering you on," he said.

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