Rocket Man: Tim Peake
I got the call saying I was going to be an astronaut on a Monday evening. I was having dinner with my wife and the phone rang asking me if I’d like to start my training. I said, “Yes, that would be wonderful.” It was one of those things that happened through opportunity. I was in the right place at the right time and with the right qualifications when the European Space Agency had their selection in 2008.
Out of 10,000 candidates that applied, I was one of the lucky six that got selected. Just like any young boy, you go through a phase of wanting to be an astronaut from the age of about four. My upbringing in a small village in Chichester was very normal. My parents were very normal too: my mother was a midwife and my dad a journalist.
I lived underwater for 12 days last year. It was in a submarine bolted to the ocean floor while we tried to come up with ways of working and landing on asteroids in the future. The best way to deal with pressure is to be confident, and the best way to be confident is to be well trained. I’ve always relied on the fact that if I know what I’m doing, I can think through any problems. On board the International Space Station, there’s no doctor, no plumber, no electrician, nothing. You’re the one that has to fix absolutely everything.
Of course there’s danger involved when you’re sitting in that rocket, but you have to accept that. The missions that haven’t gone to plan have to go to the back of your mind. They’re more often than not down to huge, catastrophic technical failures. Sci-fi films are still enjoyable for me. I just take them with a pinch of salt, like anybody, and enjoy the cheesiness.
I actually chose to watch Armageddon the other day. My team and I had to undergo 18 hours of decompression after the underwater asteroid tests, so we thought, “What better film than one in which they land on an asteroid and save the world?” There’s been plenty of times where I could have chosen an easier route or bypassed a difficulty, but I’ve always been one to grab an opportunity, because it might not appear again. It sounds corny, but my proudest moment was becoming a father. My youngest boy thinks that I’m just pretending to be an astronaut. He’s just getting into Lego rockets and things, and thinks that what I do is as much of a game as what he does with his toys.
The first thing I’ll do when I’m up there is to take in the enormousness of Earth with no borders, no countries and no politics. Maybe the universe isn’t just a case of infinity. Maybe there are other forces and dimensions at work. I think that some people’s minds can already comprehend the incredible vastness of space. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Professor Brian Cox, and I think he certainly has the mind for it. The next chance to go into space is in three years. I’ll find out when I go in March or April. Of course there’s a sense of itchy feet.
Nobody is working in the space industry to tick a box. It’s not a nine-to-five job. They’re there because they really want to be. There is no way you could be bored doing this job. I never thought I’d make it, but as I got closer and closer to the final I thought, “Wow, this could actually be a dream come true.” Never try to be anybody but yourself. You will get found out. It’s very true in what I’ve done. Some people will try to bluff their way to a certain level, but they’ll get found out. Just be confident in your own abilities.