After a ground breaking six month stay on the ISS, UK astronaut Tim Peake is preparing to return to Earth. This expedition makes the former British Army Air Corps officer the first UK astronaut since Helen Sharman in 1991.
Written by Daniel James Parry
In his time in the final frontier, Tim Peake has been the first Brit to make the spacewalk, which took place just a month after he arrived at the ISS, remotely steered a robot on Earth, and by securing himself to a treadmill on the ISS, in April, Tim Peake was able to complete the London Marathon by running the length in just three hours and thirty five minutes. While in space, Mj. Peake was able to complete over 250 experiments spread across medical science, radiation, physics and materials.
A Soyuz Capsule carrying Tim Peake, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Timothy Kopra is expected to land in Kazakhstan on the morning of the 18th June, a journey estimated to take approximately 7 hours.
Speaking about the voyage in his last live link-up from space to the BBC, Major Peake commented, “It’s been a fantastic six months up here – a really remarkable, incredible experience. I’m looking forward to coming home, looking forward to seeing my friends and my family, but I am going to miss this place.”
Squeezing into a tiny return ship initially designed by the Korolyov Design Bureaus which has been utilized since the days of the Soviet Republic, the trio will have to wait for over three hours before they can undock from the outpost and begin the journey home from the ISS, where they have resided for over 180 days. Several engine burns are carried out to nudge the Soyuz clear of the space station, and after drifting for approximately 12km from the orbiting platform, the engines fire up again and start the long journey back down to Earth.
This can often be the most worrying segment of the journey. As the capsule plunges back to earth at a staggering twenty five times the speed of sound, atmospheric molecules dissociate and their atoms ionise, which engulfs the vehicle in superheated plasma, raising the temperature outside the craft to approximately 2,500 degrees. Once the Soyuz has slowed down past the plasma phase, reaching an altitude of 10.7km above the surface of the Earth, a parachute opens to make the descent back to Earth even slower. As the craft floats to the ground, an engine fires to cushion the landing on the Kazakh steppe. A rescue team flown in by helicopter will then be on site to help the astronauts emerge from the capsule, before they’re carried into a tent and seen to by medical professionals. Prolonged stays in zero gravity conditions affects the body in several ways, including muscle waste and a loss of bone density. This lack of gravity also redistributes fluid all around the body in a more even manner, unfortunately causing astronauts neck and face to swell, giving them a characteristic ‘puffy’ look over the course of their first few weeks in space.
Speaking about how zero gravity affected her body to the BBC, Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut, who spent a week on the Soviet Mir space station in May 1991, cited “To start with, you actually feel faint, more than anything because gravity’s pulling blood away from your head. That faintness is the biggest reason why he’ll be carried. I was quite wobbly for a while even though my body hadn’t adapted to the pressure difference sufficiently in space. So it took me a few paces to learn to walk in a straight line again.”