Press conference panel (L to R): David Parker, Jan Woerner, Tim Peake, Greg Clark, and Katherine Courtney.

At the Farnborough Air Show Futures Day on 15 July, British astronaut Major Tim Peake spoke at a press conference, together with Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Dr David Parker, Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Operation, ESA, the Rt Hon Greg Clark, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Katherine Courtney, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency (UKSA). In addition to asking Tim about his experiences on the International Space Station (ISS), journalists were also able to quiz his fellow presenters about how the Brexit decision would affect Britain’s contribution to ESA and the future of the UK space industry.

Out of this world

Soyuz TMA 18M rocket blasts off from the Baikonur Spaceport on 18 December. (ESA)

Tim Peake spent six months on the ISS, leaving the Earth on 15 December 2015 and returning on 18 June: "It still seems surreal that less than four weeks ago I was on the ISS travelling at 25 times the speed of sound and looking down on planet Earth. " said Tim. He was asked a number of questions about his mission, including how his military training had helped him in space. "I owe a great debt of gratitude to my military career because it help form me in so many ways starting from attending the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst through to being a qualified test pilot," said Tim. “It gained me so many skills, including the operational skills needed for operating complex machinery. But it also taught me many other skills’, including communication and working in a team, These soft skills are just as important in the space business as your operational skills, so really I’ve always drawn on my military training as a foundation as how I can build on being a better astronaut and a better crew member on board the station.”

Life in space

Tim Peake's favorite moment on the ISS was his spacewalk. (ESA)

The question came up as to what music did the astronauts play before the rocket was launched, Tim explained that one of his choices had been Queen - Don't Stop Me Now while the Russians’ favourite piece had been Europe the Final Countdown. When asked what he most missed about being in space and was he ever bored during his time on the Space Station, Tim replied that he  missed seeing the view of Earth out of the window. “That never got boring,” he said. “Every time you go to the window you see something amazing.” He added that he also missed the professional environment and that his favourite moment had been when fellow astronaut Tim Kopra had opened the outside hatch ready to go out into space for their spacewalk.

Back to Earth

Tim Peake at the Farnborough press conference

There also a number of questions on how Tim had adjusted to life back on Earth and the physical effects on six months spent in zero gravity. Tim said that first smells and first meals had been wonderful but the first three days after he returned he had suffered from vertigo. However, he now felt in “great physical condition,” as he got used again to life back on terra firma.  “It takes time to readjust,” he said. “Once the vertigo disappears it’s really a case of the body learning to balance again. That’s what takes the longest, because your body has shut down the vestibular system for the six months in space.” He added that he had spent the past three weeks having his physical condition checked. “Overall I’ve lost 2% of bone density and I expect it will take up to a year for my bones to bounce back,” he said. “However. that is actually remarkable to spend six months in space and just come back with that loss. It’s really a testimony as to how far we've come as to how to live in space and will be useful information for future deep space missions.”

Live your dreams

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

It was then the turn of the other presenters to express their views on Tim’s mission. Newly appointed Business Minister Greg Clarke was very enthusiastic about the mission, saying: "The contribution that Tim has made has exceeded our wildest expectations. “We're got earthly problems,” admitted Head of ESA, Jan Woerner, “But we're got a message for young people - you can live your dreams." David Parker of ESA added: "As you haven't been around recently Tim, this is your performance appraisal. The job title is hero."

How to be an astronaut

Tim Peake accepts a thimble from an admirer.

Tim was then asked what advice he could give to children who want to be astronauts. “Accept all advice you get,” said Tim. “There is no one route to being an astronaut. The key is finding something that drives you.” “I wanted to be an astronaut,” added Jan Woerner. “And I ended up being head of ESA.”

The speakers then spoke on what happens next with Europe’s future space projects. “We have some very exciting times coming up over the next 20 years in which both Europe and ESA are involved,” said David Parker, explaining also how, as well as its own space missions, ESA is working with NASA on an ATV-derived service module for the Orion manned capsule and with Russia on the ExoMars mission. When asked why there was a need for a manned Mars mission when space exploration could be achieved by using robots, Tim replied that Mars is a stepping stone into space. “We need both human and robotic exploration to work together,” he said. “Robots are needed to de-risk human missions.” Exploration is in our human genes,” concluded Jan Woerner, citing the example of all the explorers in history who had come from Europe.


The shadow of Brexit 

Will night fall on Britain’s involvement with European space projects? (ESA)

It was inevitable that there would be questions on the implications of the UK’s decision to exit the European Union. Tim was asked the question whether, after Brexit, did he wish you were back in space? Tim replied diplomatically that he would love to be back in space for not for that reason. Living in space was an amazing place to be. Jan Woerner hoped that there will be no negative impact, adding that Article 50 hasn't happened yet. “ESA is a separate intergovernmental organisational not related to EU,” he explained. “The UK's participation in ESA will not affected by the EU referendum. Europe needs the UK and whatever happens, the UK will still be an important partner.”

Galileo FM1 payload tests at SSTL (SSTL).

However, not everyone was reassured and there were additional questions about concerns being expressed by companies exhibiting in the Space Zone, that future UK involvement in the Galileo satellite navigation system and Copernicus Earth observation programme might be marginalised, as Brussels is the single largest contributor to ESA’s budget. Even if UK industry still participated in the programmes, leaving the EU would result in the UK losing influence over these European programmes. There were also concerns about possible future restrictions on the free movement of labour and how funding for science projects was already being adversely affected. 

Katherine Courtney of the UK Space Agency did her best to reassure the questioners. “The UK has world-leading space companies,” she said. “The EU is going to want value for money and I have confidence in the UK still having a strong presence in space. Space is an international industry. We are still working with all international partners and will continue to do so." “Aerospace is one of Britain's biggest successes,” stated Greg Clark: "We have a most cordial relationship with colleagues around the world."

25 July 2016