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Astronaut and alumnus talks to Portsmouth

Astronaut Tim Peake

Watch the video above for highlights from the National Astronomy Meeting 2014.

An officer in the British Army who fought off thousands to earn a job as an astronaut said the biggest challenge he faces is learning Russian, during a Skype call to the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM2014) at the University of Portsmouth this week.

Major Tim Peake studied flight dynamics and evaluation at the University and graduated in 2006. He called in via video to the first public event at NAM 2014 from Russia, where he is currently in training for his trip to the International Space Station next year, to take questions from the 400-strong audience in The Guildhall.

When asked what the most challenging part of the training is, he said: “I’ve enjoyed every aspect of the training so far but put a Russian grammar book in front of me and I start trembling!”

Tim, who is mid-way through his training, said being a human guinea pig comes with the job. He has so far carried out survival training exercises – including living in a cave for seven days and living underwater for 12 days – and has had experiments on his immune system, cardiovascular system and blood tests.

Tim was asked by a member of the audience whether he was concerned about radiation levels when he goes to space. He said: “The radiation dose for a six month mission isn’t actually that high but of course it’s a concern; space is not kind to the body and by adapting to a new environment we can cause ourselves damage. Radiation is top of my list for technology department development for future missions.”

Tim Peake and alumna Molly Acquaisie. Molly worked with Tim when she was a PR and Communications trainee at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Germany.

Children in the audience asked Tim how he will sleep in space. He said he’d be zipped into a sleeping bag velcroed to the wall and added: “It’s very strange to get used to your arms floating up in front of your face.”

He also said he was most looking forward to seeing lighting storms and the Aurora from space, and was excited about seeing cloud formations really high in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Primary school children from the Portsmouth Music Hub sang Tim songs about space. Afterwards there was a talk from author and astrobiologist Dr Lewis Dartnell from the University of Leicester who discussed the origins and limits of life on our own planet, and where alien life might exist beyond Earth.

The National Astronomy Meeting saw over 600 astronomers gather for the biggest conference the University of Portsmouth has ever hosted. Leading scholars presented the latest research in a variety of astronomical fields, including astronomy in ancient history, the industrial applications of astrophysics, the Sun, the surfaces of other planets, the evolution of stars, brown dwarfs, black holes, dark energy and the origin and fate of the Universe.

There were also a number of public events on offer and activities for local school children. Nearly 100 children from Portsmouth schools attended ‘Think Bigger’, organised by the University’s Education Liaison and Outreach team and Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. Pupils took part in a morning of astronomy and cosmology activities including seeing the inside of an Astrodome – an inflatable mobile planetarium.

Professor Bob Nichol, Director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, said: “The National Astronomy Meeting has been a fantastic mixture of science, outreach and fun, and everybody seems to have had a wonderful time here in Portsmouth.”

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