As the European Space Agency (ESA) looks for its next batch of astronauts to head to space on its behalf, Forces News sat down with Major Tim Peake about the UK’s role in the future of space exploration.
Major Tim Peake is a British Army Air Corps officer, ESA astronaut and a former International Space Station crew member, uniquely positioned to give an insight into this next generation and where the agency’s headed.
So what’s the next step?
“We’re very much part of what’s called the Artemis exploration programme and we’re building a small space station that’s going to orbit the moon to facilitate lunar landings,” he said.
“Not just for a one-off, we’re looking at building lunar research bases where crews will potentially spend six months, maybe a year, on the surface of the moon.
“Two US crew members, a man and a woman, will probably be the first two US crew members to return there since 1972 and then after that, we’ll have the ability for European astronauts to be involved.
“But certainly, by the end of the decade, we should have seen probably several missions to the surface of the moon.”
What about going to Mars?
“I would never say never, but I’m 48 years old now we won’t fly an astronaut beyond 63, so I could be right on the cusp.
“Hopefully, certainly a lunar mission is within my career timeframe.”
What’s space like?
“If going into space is on one level, going out the hatch in a spacesuit is another order of magnitude altogether, and on the one hand, you’re very aware that you’re putting yourself in harm’s way.
“I mean, there’s nothing we do that carries greater risk than a spacewalk, but also nothing that we do that carries greater exhilaration as well.
“I approach spacewalking as if I was flying a sortie. Your spacesuit is like a small space station, it’s keeping you alive, all the systems, all the things you need to learn about.”
What can UK Defence bring to space?
“I really hope that we have a strong showing from the MOD in terms of this next selection of astronauts, which is hugely exciting.
“This is really the next generation of astronauts that’s going to see us go to the moon so, for Europe, that’s our first Europeans on the moon and possibly in their career time go on to Mars.”
Do you agree that space is the next battlefield?
“We have strategic assets in space that are part of our critical national infrastructure so we need to be able to protect them, but we also need to be able to look after that environment as well.
“Space needs to be regulated, it needs to be managed, we need to look at the amount of space debris that we’re creating.
“We do not want to have ruined the space environment for generations to come.
“So, I think it’s only right that, actually, we position ourselves where we’ve got the right amount of credibility and we’ve got Government backing in order to have a large enough voice on the international stage to be able to help forge the decisions that need to be taken for the future.”
How did it feel to be made Honorary Colonel of 9 Regiment Army Air Corps?
“I’m immensely proud to accept that. It’s a huge honour.
“The Army Air Corps has been such a large part of my life so this has come full circle to be able to give something back and hopefully help to inspire the pilots of the future.”
Final thoughts on space?
“Living in space is incredible, you’ve got that liberating feeling of floating around the Space Station, the incredible view when you look outside the window.
“But there’s a sense of detachment from the planet as well, a sense of isolation that allows you to reflect and look back on your home planet and literally be disassociated from it, which is quite surreal and quite unique.”
The astronaut will be touring around the UK later this year from March through to December, and will include discussion about his journey to space.
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