Like many children I dreamt of going into space but never really considered it a possibility. Now a lifelong fascination with flying, years of training as a pilot and then an astronaut, and some luck, has turned that dream into reality. [Image: Nasa]
I was born in April 1972 in Chichester in south-east England, and grew up in a nearby village.
My older sister and I had a stable upbringing and enjoyed an ordinary family life. Our mother worked as a midwife and our father was a journalist. My father had always been interested in historic aircraft and took me to airshows from an early age, where my fascination with flying began.
Tim Peake travelled back to Earth on 18 June 2016 – after spending six months living and working in space.
He left the Space Station at 05:53 GMT, joined by Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra. Their Soyuz capsule hurtled back to Earth at 25 times the speed of sound, before landing in Kazakhstan at 09:15 GMT. Tim’s space mission has taken him on about 3,000 orbits of Earth, covering a distance of around 125 million km. Now he’s back on Earth, feeling the force of gravity again, it will take several months for his body to fully recover.
When I returned to the UK from Alaska, I began an 18-year military career.
I began pilot training after graduating from Sandhurst. The day I was awarded my Wings was the start of a four-year adventure, flying reconnaissance missions all over the world. My skills were probably most tested in Bosnia for active service during the 1990s Balkans war. I later trained to be an instructor, before flying Apache helicopters in Texas with the US Army. Luckily, on my return to the UK, the Apache was being introduced into the British Army – so I helped develop the training plan.
On 19 May 2008, Esa announced it was accepting applications for new astronauts and I happened to see the advert online.
Pilots, like myself, required a minimum of 1,000 hours experience flying different high-performance aircraft as well as a degree in natural sciences, medicine, engineering, IT or mathematics. I’d spent the last few years working as a helicopter pilot, flight instructor and test pilot, and coupled with my academic qualifications, I was ideally placed to apply. It was too good an opportunity to miss. My online application joined more than 8,000 others.
Nearly a year later, I decided to retire from the British Army as a Major.
I had really enjoyed my career but it was inevitably going to take a more managerial direction, which would mean less time in the cockpit. After nearly 18 years of service I had logged over 3,000 hours in the air – but I still felt I had a lot of flying left in me. I joined a global helicopter manufacturer called AgustaWestland as a senior test pilot. But a few months after I started my new role, I got a phone call from Esa…
My wife, our young son and I moved to Cologne, Germany, and I began a course in basic astronaut training.
Basic training was like going back to school. Well, maybe it was a bit better than that as our lessons gave us the basic knowledge we needed to become astronauts. We covered a huge range of subjects, including space law, rocket propulsion and spaceflight engineering. The hardest part was learning to speak Russian as I’m not a natural linguist. Then after a few months the course turned more practical. We learnt survival skills, CPR, how to be a rescue diver and how to move around in zero gravity.
To enhance our team-building skills, I was sent for one week’s cave training in Sardinia, Italy, with five other astronauts.
Our mission was to live and work in a huge underground cave. We were given limited food and we had no way of telling the time. We set up camp six hours trek from the entrance. The conditions here mimicked some of what we’d experience in space and Esa wanted to see how we’d cope. Life in a dark, damp cave took some getting used to, but it gave us an insight into what it would be like to be an astronaut, especially the importance of teamwork to solve problems and the lack of hygiene facilities…
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