No University of Portsmouth alumnus, it’s safe to say, has hit the heights quite so spectacularly as Tim Peake.
The former flight dynamics and evaluation student spent 185 days hurtling through space at a giddying five miles per second – and witnessing 15 sunrises a day – as part of the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).
Tim made his nail-biting departure from Earth on the morning of December 15 last year, blasting off on board a Soyuz rocket from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and docking with the ISS – orbiting the Earth at a height of roughly 250 miles – some four-and-a-half hours later.
Among those watching the live TV coverage with especially keen interest that day were staff at the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation.
‘We were all excited, but nervous too,’ remembers cosmologist Dr Karen Masters.
‘It’s well-known that the most dangerous parts of space flight are the launch and landing, so I was really relieved when he made it safely.
‘A number of us had met Tim (virtually) when he called in to the National Astronomy Meeting at the University in June 2014, so it felt very weird to watch someone we’d spoken to go into space.’
To mark the start of Tim’s six-month Principia mission on December 15, and 15 years of human habitation on the ISS, the University made a short video featuring clips with good luck messages in 15 languages – from Slovenian to Japanese. The video made it onto BBC South Today and even won Tim’s approval on Twitter:
During his time on the ISS Tim carried out scientific experiments and maintenance work. Highlights of his time on board included a spacewalk – when he left the ISS to replace a faulty component on the station’s solar arrays – a new year message broadcast by the BBC, and running the London Marathon on the space station treadmill.
Tim will making an appearance at the Principia Schools Conference – being hosted by the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation in association with the UK Space Agency – on November 2. The session will give children a chance to exhibit work linked to Tim’s space mission and meet experts from the space industry.