About 500 children heard first-hand about the magic of space today when British astronaut Tim Peake spoke at a schools event hosted by the University of Portsmouth.
Nothing compared, he said, to the majesty and beauty of planet Earth seen from the international space station.
“By far the most incredible thing is the view of Earth – it’s so beautiful, so fragile; we need to look after it and each other.”
The astronaut and University of Portsmouth alumnus was talking to school pupils from across the south of England about his six-month mission to the international space station at his first UK Space Agency Schools Conference.
He made even weekly chores sound magical – ‘dust floats rather than falls, so it’s hard to vacuum’ — to the rapt audience of budding scientists.
“You train so hard and for so long and you never know until the moment just before that you’re going on a spacewalk, then you drop out of the airlock and your nerves just disappear.”
The spacewalk was needed to repair an electric socket at the furthest edge of the space station. Tim and another astronaut had to go outside and wait for nightfall before it was safe to turn off the power and make the repairs.
“Mission control in Houston said ‘just hang out and wait ten minutes for sunset’. It was incredible.”
There were so many ‘incredibles’, he said, including passing over Earth 16 times a day and being awestruck by all of it, the familiar and the strange, every time he looked out the window.
Playing to his audience, he also told them how months of training lay behind the “most intense four minutes of my life” when he was asked to control the robotic arm responsible for bringing in and safely docking a cargo vehicle full of food for the six-man crew.
As well as the excitement and drama of take-off, in which his rocket travelled at 25 times the speed of sound and 10 times faster than a bullet, and his spacewalk, the return to Earth was probably the most dangerous – and exciting – part of the entire mission.
“We were tumbling over and over, our craft had to slow down from 25 times the speed of sound to slow enough to open a parachute; you lose all contact with the outside, even the windows white-out. It’s 2,000 degrees Celsius outside, it’s very, very hot; we are all sweating. The G-force makes it feel like an elephant is on your chest. It’s hard to breathe. Then you have what is called a soft landing. Only it’s not exactly soft – it’s a bit like a car crash.”
Every pupil at the conference had the chance to meet and have their photo taken with Tim and talk to him about their own experiments inspired by the European Space Agency astronaut’s Principia mission.
More than a million young people took part in a broad range of projects, including scientific experiments, coding challenges, family shows at local science centres, creative writing and more. A second conference is to be held in York on Saturday.
The schools event is to be followed later by a public lecture, at which the astronaut will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Portsmouth.