- By Nathan Duke
The first British astronaut to got o the International Space Station
British astronaut, Major Tim Peake will make his landmark flight to the International Space Station on Tuesday morning after two weeks in quarantine, six years of preparation and 6,000 hours of intense training. Making history as the first British astronaut to serve on the Russian dominated International Space Station.
Peake’s family, including his wife, their two young sons and his parents, will be watching from the observation site a mile from the launchpad at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as the Soyuz rocket lifts off carrying the first Briton to join the ISS.
Final goodbyes have been said to the crew’s families, who waved flags from the pavement with the message: “Go Tim, go”, before the crew were taken to the 50 metre-tall 310-tonne rocket, which is carrying more than 270 tonnes of kerosene and liquid oxygen.
Peake’s youngest son, Oliver, who sat on the shoulders of his grandfather, cried as his father left. “I want to go with Daddy.” he said, clutching a flag and a soft toy as his mother consoled him.
On Monday night, Peake spent his last few hours on Earth before his six-month trip with his close family, though behind a glass quarantine screen, with his wife, Rebecca.
The British astronaut and his two other colleagues rose at 8am local time (02.30 GMT) for their final medical tests and to change into their special Sokol suits, worn during takeoff. Peaks will be the sole representative of the European Space Agency on the mission, accompanied by two colleagues from the USA’s NASA and three cosmonauts from the Russian Space Agency. Although three of the team are already at the permanently manned space station.
ESA spokesman Juan de Dalmau commented “So far so good in Baikonur; we know the crew is ready. They are on top of the rocket and they should have liftoff on time at 11.03am London time for a six-hour trip to the International Space Station.”
The astronauts have taken an elevator to the top of the Soyuz rocket and will be strapped in as part of the final preparations before launch. The journey to their new home will take six hours, however, with the Soyuz orbiting the planet four times before their arrival at 5.23pm.
Rituals before liftoff are important, a Russian orthodox priest has walked around the rocket and cast holy water on to its fuselage and thrusters, a tradition that dates back to the mid-1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Peake and his crew also received a personal blessing before they left for the rocket.
In a more crude ritual, crew members urinate on the wheels of the bus taking them to the launch pad, a tradition said to have been started by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, though it has never been witnessed by anyone outside an inner circle of astronauts.
The European Space Agency often asks the public to name forthcoming missions to the space station. For Peake’s stint in space, more than 20 people suggested “Principia” after Newton’s seminal work in 1687 that laid out his laws of motion and gravity. The mission name was adopted, along with a mission badge that bears a falling apple.
Peake’s main role is to take part in dozens of experiments on the station, which orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 248 miles (400km) and speed of 17’500 mph. He is trained to use equipment in Europe’s science lab, the Columbus module, but also on apparatus used for US, Canadian and Japanese research.
Some experiments take advantage of the weightless environment. Metal alloys solidify differently in space, and understanding why could lead to stronger, lighter materials here on Earth. Work on protein crystals that form in freefall could open up new avenues for vaccine development.
In other experiments, Peake will be a human guinea pig. He will have a portable gas mask to monitor molecules in his breath. In the future, it could be used to check whether astronauts on a lunar base are suffering from inhaled moon dust. Other tests will look at the effects of living in space on the immune system.
Stress seems to be a factor that causes about half of astronauts to be sick when they return. In orbit, astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets every day. What that does to the body clock, and how its effects can be managed, will help future astronauts but also people who do shift work on Earth.
Before preperation for the mission commenced, Peake toured schools and colleges to discuss the mission with students. At a packed briefing at the Science Museum in London before he left for Kazakhstan, Peake said the schoolchildren of today could be among the first humans to walk on Mars. During his mission, Peake hopes to use the station’s robotic arm to capture incoming supply vessels, and venture outside on one of the planned space walks.
After a tense, last minute glitch with the Soyuz spacecraft that forced the crew to make an unusual manual approach to the orbiting outpost, ‘Expedition 46’ safely docked at the International Space Station.
Veteran Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko took control of the Soyuz capsule for the final stretch to the station after the automatic docking system failed to operate properly.
The three crew inside the capsule reached the right orbit to rendezvous with the station after a clean launch from Baikonur cosmodrome on Tuesday morning, but a last minute problem with the spacecraft meant the docking was delayed.
The fault made for a hair-raising end to an otherwise perfect ascent to the space station, though the failure of the automatic docking system is a fault the astronauts train well for. “We were a little bit worried on our side.” said Moscow mission control. The cause of the problem is not yet known. The Soyuz had to use its onboard radar system to lock onto its destination before the space station was visible to Peake and his crewmates. Having docked, the crew had two hours of checks to run before they can open the hatch to their new home.
Peake blasted off on the six-month mission with Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra, and veteran Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko. By the time the trio arrive at the space station, they will have been cooped up in the Soyuz capsule for more than eight hours.
The launch itself was flawless, seeing the Soyuz lift into the sky on a tower of flame at 11:03 GMT and give chase to the space station, which had soared overhead three minutes earlier. A camera in the capsule showed Tim Peake give a thumbs up as the first stage fell away from the rocket. Minutes later, a gravity indicator in the capsule began to float as the crew became weightless. The 26 million horsepower rocket engines burn 270 tonnes of kerosene and liquid oxygen to catch up with the space station.