After six years of training and a lifetime of flying, Tim Peake stood in an elevator in December 2015 and looked out at the gleaming white Soyuz FG rocket that was about to take him into space.
“It’s the most incredible thing, it’s steaming, it’s hissing,” Tim said of the rocket as he addressed the packed Chichester Festival Theatre on Sunday.
“The first time I got to see a rocket launch other than on a TV screen was six months before.
“It’s quite emotional when you know the people on the rocket when they are going up into space.”
After receiving his Freedom of the City award, Tim enthralled the audience with a stunning account of his Principia mission to the International Space Station.
His story began with himself and fellow space-bound companions commander-cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Tim Kopra getting strapped into their rocket after the elevator ride.
They were taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same spacepad Yuri Gagarin blasted off from when he became the first human in orbit in 1961.
Tim said: “It is actually very hard inside the rocket to know the moment you have left the launch pad.
“It’s only about two or three seconds into the flight the acceleration kicks in and you are off and you realise that you have pressed a button that you can’t undo.”
Once the 9,000,000 horsepower rocket got the three astronauts out of the atmosphere they became free of most of Earth’s gravity.
Tim said: “It is the most magical and wonderful feeling but it does not last very long because you have a very important job to do which is rendezvousing with the space station.”
Of course we know that Tim got onto the space station safely, ready to carry out countless important experiments for scientists back on Earth.
Is Tim going back to space? Click here to hear what he said when we asked him.
“It is a phenomenal piece of hardware. We have had people living in the space station for 17 years.
“Our job is to try and do as much science as possible.”
Perhaps the most famous moment of the mission was when Tim became the first ‘official’ British astronaut to perform a spacewalk.
“Going out of the airlock into space for the first time is a very special moment.
“It’s something we train a long time for but until you get out and do it for yourself you never quite know what it is going to feel like.
“You have the earth in front of your visor and the universe behind you. It was the most incredible feeling.”
Tim and fellow astronaut Tim Kopra spent several hours fixing part of the station but had to cut the spacewalk short due to water leaking into Colonel Kopra’s helmet.
As anyone who follows Major Peake on Twitter will know, Tim loves drifting into the space station’s observation ‘cupola’ module for a spot of Earth-gazing.
Tim said: “Space is literally the blackest black you can possibly imagine.”
At this point in the presentation Tim showed the audience stunning time-lapse footage of our planet from space.
Tim said by day you can’t see many signs of human habitation, but ‘by nighttime it’s a completely different picture’.
“At night you see human habitation everywhere. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
After six months in space Tim’s mission came to a close, with astronauts Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra also joining him for the return journey.
“There’s always nerves when you press the button to start a spacecraft that has been untouched for six months.”
However, Tim added the Soyuz is ‘exceptionally reliable’, and following a descent he described as feeling like ‘an elephant is sitting on your chest’ from the punishing g-forces they landed safely on the plains of Kazakhstan.
After enthusiastic applause Tim took time for a Q&A session with the audience.
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