Could we colonise Mars by 2024? Elon Musk seems to think so and astronaut Tim Peake predicted a similar timescale for a trip to the Red Planet when he spoke at York University, a couple of days before Musk's prediction was made.
Echoing Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke's optimism around a manned mission to Mars, Peake predicts we will see humans on Mars by the late 2030s "but no one nation has the resources to do this. If we can include private investment and companies like SpaceX this could speed things up," he added.
Peake was a little more considered in his predictions than Musk. "People are always over ambitious when talking about space exploration. It is hard and difficult work," he said.
"One would like to think we would have permanent occupancy modules on Mars in 100 years," according to Peake.
Tim Peake shared a lot of nuggets of information about space exploration, living in space and the importance of snorkels and nappies during a space walk (yes, really). Here are my 12 favourite titbits from his fascinating talk:
1. "You have to pee on the bus. It's tradition."
Peake flew from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where a whole other set of prelaunch traditions are in place.
Most of these rituals pay tribute to the first human to go into space, Yuri Gagarin, including peeing on the back tyre of the bus that takes cosmonauts to the launch pad, just as Gagarin did in 1961. According to Tim, a space suit is not the easiest item of clothing to undo and do up again.
Tim traveled to the Space Station with Veteran Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Tim Kopra in the Soyuz capsule.
2. "Docking did not go to plan."
The Soyuz capsule had to attach to the Space Station but the automatic docking system failed to operate, so manual control had to be taken.
It sounded like a pretty hairy time as the optics on the capsule were flooded with light as the transition from day to night occurred when the automatic docking system failed.
Malenchenko took control and eventually docked the craft. "He knew the danger and waited until better conditions," Peake added.
3. "We really have become very adept at living and working in space."
When Soyuz's crew met the crew at the Space Station, their physical and mental condition was "great", according to Tim, despite spending nine-months in space.
The working week on the Space Station is also your (not so typical) 9 to 5. So, it is structured and, at times, quite solitary according to Peake as each crew member works on different scientific experiments.
“No two days are the same and that's what makes it so exciting," according to Peake, who also took remote control of a Mars rover (which was based on Earth at the time) while on the Space Station. It was an important proof of concept for future exploratory missions to the Red Planet.
Tim and the crew also had to clean the Space Station every Saturday (do astronauts have feather dusters? I'd like to think so). Tim also said the station had a "noisy party atmosphere" because of all the different instruments left to run, which mean there's a constant 40-50 decibels of noise.
"It also smelt of a laboratory," Tim added. But you soon get used to the smell.
4. "You knock and hear nothing."
Tim conducted one space walk during his time on the Space Station to fix a faulty electrical box. Peake said this was "the moment of greatest apprehension because you do not know what that moment will feel like."
Dropping out of the airlock, Peake said his primary concern was getting tangled in the tethers on his suit and "the second thing was not to look down as it's an awfully long way down at 400km above the Earth."
5. "Mission control told us to hang out."
The space walk was running 10 minutes ahead of schedule, so Tim had to wait for the Sun to set and the power supply to be cut before the repair work to the electrical box could be carried out. "Mission control said hang out. I don't think anyone else has been told to hang out in space. It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life," according to Peake.
"I felt myself completely immersed in space and had a quiet reflection on where we were and what we were doing."
6. "We came up with a snorkel and a nappy."
The CO2 sensor for Tim's fellow spacewalker, Tim Kopra, went off during the excursion, which usually signals a water leak in the suit.
"We have a procedure to deal with this," according to Peake, "A snorkel so you can still breathe and a nappy at the back of the helmet to absorb moisture."
All that scientific knowledge and development and "we came up with a snorkel and a nappy," Tim added.
The spacewalk was terminated early as a result, but the astronauts were outside the Space Station for 4 hours and 43 minutes.
7. "It never gets old or less exciting."
When Tim did have a spare few minutes (he also completed a huge amount of outreach work), he photographed the mind-blowing views from the Space Station. Check out his stunning book of those views (plus, all Tim's proceeds go to the Prince's Trust).
"Watching Earth from space is mesmerising and it's constantly changing. During the day, you do not see borders or cities, it's all about the mountains and glaciers. Earth is a wonderful geological feature in the making. At night, the Earth comes alive," Peake added.
8. "Russian technology is not subtle."
Reentry sounds like quite a traumatic experience. Tim described the experience as if "the capsule is blowing itself apart."
And, when the breaking parachutes slowly open, "it was 20 seconds of the most crazy roller coaster ride of my life," according to Peake. "You don't want to have your tongue between your teeth. You're bracing for something that is essentially a car crash," he added. Yikes.
9. "Gravity sucks"
Readjusting to life on Earth isn't easy. Peake found he was dizzy, disoriented and felt pretty rough for the first three days on Earth. Muscle distribution is something that really suffers, according to Peake, and he is only just starting to fully recover his bone density.
10. "The rocket is not the time to be afraid."
I don't know about you, but the thought of going into space terrifies me. Peake, on the other hand, was quietly cautious when talking about the launch process.
"You deal with the consequences of what you are doing long before you go on the rocket," he said. "No one should happily sit on 300 tonnes of rocket fuel - if you can then you may not be psychologically prepared to go to space."
11. "Our planet is fragile and isolated."
Peake's time on the Space Station has changed his perspective on our planet. "You feel like you know the Earth pretty well, even though there are areas you have never been to, or are likely to visit."
This "overview effect" is a psychological phenomenon shared by many astronauts.
12. "It's impolite to eat upside down on the Space Station."
While there's no gravity on the Space Station, there is a convention of what's up and what's down. It's also important to be a "good crew member" when it comes to personal hygiene on the Space Station. Although your time there means "it's the best pedicure you'll ever have", you have to be careful when you whip your socks off, according to Peake.
And the astronauts returned with "lizard feet" as they hooked their feet to steady themselves as they moved around in zero gravity, which meant they rubbed in unusual places.
It looks like Tim will have to cope with lizard feet at least one more time too, as he's due to go back up to the Space Station. And he also has high hopes for his future in space, as he added:
"Everyone gets addicted to space. I would love to go to the moon."
With only six moonwalkers now left on Earth, fingers crossed for Tim - and the future of space exploration, as we know it.
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