Tim Peake made history by becoming the first British astronaut to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of the European Space Agency (ESA). Previous “British” astronauts have either held U.S. or dual citizenship and had either worked for NASA or travelled on privately funded trips.
After two weeks in quarantine, six years of preparation, and 6,000 hours of intense training, he lifted off from Site 1 at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the pad where Yuri Gagarin made the first historic human spaceflight in 1961 at 6:03 a.m. EST (1103 GMT). He was accompanied by American Tim Kopra and Russian Yuri Malenchenko in the Russian Soyuz rocket on his mission to the space station.
According to a report in Space reported, NASA spokesman Dan Huot said the following during live launch commentary.
“A flawless flight into orbit today.”
The British Army Air Corps major and test pilot, Peake, 43, said the following at a press conference on Monday.
“I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for that moment and that will occur in the Soyuz spacecraft once we get injected into orbit. I’ll be able to look out the right window and see the beautiful view of Planet Earth.”
Peake’s wife, two sons, and parents were present at the observation site, a mile from the launchpad at Baikanour. They waved flags saying “Go Tim, go,” before the crew were taken to the 50 meter-tall, 310-ton rocket, carrying more than 270 tons of kerosene and liquid oxygen.
Before launching for the six-month trip to the space station, Tim spent his last few hours on Monday with his family, though from behind a glass screen.
Suggested by more than 20 people, the The European Space Agency named the mission “Principia” after Newton’s work in 1687 that laid out his laws of motion and gravity. A mission badge that bears a falling apple was also adopted.
In a string of rituals, a Russian orthodox priest walked around the rocket and cast holy water on to its fuselage and thrusters. Peake and his crew also received a personal blessing before they left for the rocket.
There is also believed to be another ritual in which 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 the inner circle of astronauts.
Peake is all set to run and participate in many experiments on the space station, which orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 248 miles (400km) and speed of 17,500mph. He is trained to use equipment in Europe’s science lab, the Columbus module, and on apparatus used for U.S., Canadian, and Japanese research.
Taking advantage of the weightless environment experiments would be carried out to find out how metal alloys solidify differently in space. The understanding could lead to stronger, lighter materials on Earth. Another work that involves how protein crystals form in freefall could open up new possibilities for vaccine development.
Peake is also geared to be a human guinea pig on the station. Using a portable gas mask to monitor molecules in his breath, he will participate in experiments which 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.
Speaking to a packed briefing at the Science Museum in London before he left for Kazakhstan, Peake said that the schoolchildren of today could be among the first humans to walk on Mars, according to a report in the Guardian.
Kopra and Malenchenko too bring with them a fair share of their experience. Just before he was scheduled to launch on Discovery’s final flight in 2011, Kopra suffered a broken hip in a bicycle wreck and could not join the crew. He gets to make up for his lost mission. Previously, he lived on the space station for two months in 2009.
Kopra, now 52, said the following.
“I guess I’m substantially more grateful for the job that I have and appreciate what opportunities I have available to me.”
Having spent more than 800 days in space by the time his sixth spaceflight ends in May, Malenchenko, a Russian cosmonaut who turns 54 next week, will be among the top three people all-time.
[Photo by Getty Images Handout]