Britain might be a fairly major player in many aspects of the space industry – from satellite manufacture to privatization – but one area it is sorely lacking is human exploration. Not since 1991 has a British astronaut – then, Helen Sharman, when she visited the Russian Mir space station – traveled to space.
That’s all set to change this coming Tuesday December 15, though, when Major Tim Peake, 43, launches to the International Space Station (ISS). He will travel with Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Timothy Kopra, and will remain on the station for six months, performing a huge amount of research in addition to flying the flag for the U.K.
“When it comes to sending a human, and when it comes to sending a human from our country… we feel it's tangible and it's ours,” Helen Sharman told the BBC.
The launch, on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan, is scheduled to take place just after 11 a.m. GMT on Tuesday. Tim will then arrive at the station in the evening, around 7 p.m., and a number of venues in the U.K., including the Science Museum in London (with their Lates event), are throwing parties to celebrate the momentous occasion.
Tim was selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009, and chosen for this mission – Expedition 46, also called Principia – in May 2013.
On board the station, Tim will perform 265 scientific experiments – including using the first ever Raspberry Pi computers to go to space, nicknamed Astro Pi. The launch and docking will be streamed live on NASA TV, while BBC Two is airing two special Stargazing Live shows – one at 10.30 a.m. and the other at 7 p.m., hosted by Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain – that residents of the U.K. can tune in for.
Speaking to the BBC in November, Tim said: "The legacy I hope is that this will inspire a new generation to look at science, to look at space, as an exciting career path, and to make choices that push them in that direction."
All the best, Tim.