Tim Peake: Everything You Need to Know About Britain's Newest Astronaut

By Gary Cutlack on at

We've got one of us in space again for the first time in a long time, and our first ever ISS guest. He's Tim Peake, he's 43, and right now he's unfastening his seatbelt and preparing to shuffle from a Russian pod to the International Space Station, where he'll live, weeing into a vacuum cleaner and eating Spam out of a toothpaste tube, for the next five-and-a-bit months. So, who is this latest space hero? Here's everything you need to know about Tim Peake.

The First Nigel in Space 

Timothy Nigel Peake started out as a normal and quite bright man, one shovelled down the worn path into the military as a youngster. He spent time at the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst, where a great number of posh people steer themselves into their lifelong military positions, graduating in 1992.

Tim then chose flying as his area to specialise in, learning to pilot helicopters in the British Army Air Corps, before Major Peake became a pilot trainer and eventually left in favour of a career as a test pilot for Apache helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland.

But you can't get into space by just knowing about engines and thrust. They don't do a lot of manual flying up there. It's not like Battlestar Galactica, it's more like controlling a fleet of taxis. Tim also specialised in the sciences while he was doing his military training and flight testing, eventually earning a BSc(Hons) in flight dynamics and evaluation -- the real reason he's part of the European Space Agency's Principia mission.

Reality Star

But he wasn't plucked out at random or spotted in the street by a man who said "Hey, you look like an astronaut. Have you ever done any astronauting? Come back to my flat and try on a spacesuit."

Peake applied for the vacant position of European astronaut, successfully winning a place on the ESA astronaut training programme. ESA was looking for people skilled in flight, sciences and research, because most of what goes on up in space is not-so-exciting business to do with computers and education.

Over 8,000 people from across Europe -- and 850 from the UK -- applied to the ESA to become astronauts in 2008, before Peake was chosen in 2009. It was quite a controversial decision to chose a Brit, as the UK makes no financial contribution toward the European Space Agency's manned flight programme. Tim's basically an economic space migrant.


All of which meant that today he was a passenger on that there Soyuz TMA-19M spacebus, one that blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:03am. About 15 minutes later he was in space, in one piece. It all worked.

How Did He Train for Space?

His official ESA video bio bigs up the process, showing it's more than sitting in a rocket then floating around for a while trying to get good traction on a laptop trackpad in zero gravity. Peake apparently spent time in caves to get used to the isolation of space (although Commander Hadfield showed us that the ISS is basically little more than a YouTube studio nowadays), lived in an undersea lab, and was also taught how to live in the wild in Siberia, in case his Soyuz capsule dumps him in a forest and he has to trap small animals for food for a few weeks before rescue.

He also had a swim, as apparently that's a bit like being in space.

What's He Doing up There? 

Tweeting pics, pooing into bags, floating peas across the cabin into the mouth of colleagues, looking at clipboards. Oh, and also perhaps a bit of science to please his paymasters, as the Principia mission is a multi-pronged attempt to unravel some of the remaining mysteries of science.

Here's his mission overview according to his ESA bosses, including 30 separate experiments. There will be a test upon his return:

Peake is specifically looking at material structure, biology and physiology, results that'll be fed into the industries of the future. He might, for example, come up with an even softer type of memory foam.

Will He Be Tweeting? 

Of course he'll be tweeting and Instagramming -- what's the point of going into space if you don't leverage the opportunity to gain more followers across social media, like that moustachioed Canadian man did and who's still dining out on his YouTube/space fame?

In fact, social sharing is part of the job spec nowadays. Educational outreach is one of Peake's key responsibilities, and this will see him chat with schoolkids from space in an effort to make the next generation of kids want to be boffins and space nerds.

Is He Really There or is it Just Faked? 

Someone on Reddit says he's actually in a warehouse outside Brussels and it's all just pretend and you can see the strings holding up the peas if you watch the streams at 1080p, but you can actually see the ISS floating past from the west some nights, so, presumably, there is someone up there looking back. Try flashing a torch.

What Song Should He Do?

Well he's on the ginger spectrum, so would make a much better Bowie than Hadfield, so we'd suggest getting the other two blokes to be Neil and Chris for a do-over of Hallo Spaceboy.

Image credit: ESA, Flickr