Peake: Soyuz blowing itself apart, ‘exciting!’
COLOGNE, Germany — On Tuesday, June 21, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake gave his first press conference three days after landing back on Earth in a Soyuz descent module. Peake gave a presentation at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, where he provided details about his mission.
EAC is the home base for all ESA astronauts. Peake, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, and Russian cosmonaut and Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko landed in the Kazakhstan steppe on Saturday, June 18, in their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft after spending 186 days in space.
“[T]he [Soyuz] spacecraft really does blow itself apart, which is really quite exciting to be in the center of this […],” Peake said, describing how the separation of the three modules that make up the Soyuz spacecraft during re-entry. “It does it with a number of pyrotechnic bolts that all go off one after the other […] and these bolts are only a few millimeters of metal away from your ear when they go off […].”
When the capsule goes through Earth’s atmosphere it is slowed from orbital speeds to about 515 mph (829 km/h). Then, according to Peake, the most dynamic part of the landing happened—the deployment of the drogue parachute.
“[Y]ou get about 20 seconds where the capsule is being completely flung around, and you just have to really hold on and wait for it all to stop,” Peake said. “[…] so I wasn’t even aware that the main chute had opened […] I was concerned and I looked across to Yuri, and he just sat there so relaxed and cool as he always is. I thought, well, if we didn’t have the main parachute opening, then he wouldn’t be looking as cool as that, […].”
The landing brought Peake’s Principia mission to a successful conclusion—but the research continues. Peake was the eighth ESA astronaut to complete a long-duration mission in space. He is the third, after Germany’s Alexander Gerst and Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen, to fly directly to the European Astronaut Centre for medical checks and to be able to provide researchers with the chance to collect more data on how Peake’s body and mind had adapted to living in space.
Peake spent his first night back on Earth at the Envihab facility of the DLR German Aerospace Center, where scientists have gathered to continue the science program, collecting data on Tim’s rehabilitation phase.
Asked by Spaceflight Insider about a possible next mission to space, be it a long duration mission or on a mission on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft to the Moon or commercial mission, such as on SpaceX, Peake answered:
“I think as an astronaut any mission is a good mission, so you can’t afford to get fussy. They don’t come around very often, so you take anything you can get. Another long duration mission, absolutely. My dream would have to be lunar exploration. I don’t think any astronaut would turn that down. I’ll be fighting Frank [de Winne] for it, but any mission would be a good mission.”
At the press conference, Peake was joined by the first European ISS commander—and now head of the European astronaut center—de Winne, ESA astronaut and Soyuz MS-03 prime crew member Thomas Pesquet, and ESA director for human spaceflight David Parker.
Spaceflight Insider also spoke with de Winne. We asked him about the European Space Agency’s future astronaut selections, he told SFI that, at the earliest, in 2019 there will be a new round of selections.
However, this is dependent on the state funding from each ESA member. It is not clear what, if any, the recent announcement that the United Kingdom will exit the European Union might play in ESA-related decisions.
“If a selection will be held a new group of astronauts will then be announced in 2020 and after 2 to 3 years of training the new astronauts will be ready for flights in 2024,” de Winne said.
De Winne added that the 2009 astronauts will fly in rotation at least 1 mission a year. Paolo Nespoli will be the last of the “older” astronauts to fly in 2017 after that all flights will be for the 2009 class until a (possible) new class is selected and ready to fly.
A native of the Netherlands, van Oene became ‘infected’ with the ‘space virus’ by an enthusiastic school teacher in 1981. Since 1994 he has been a freelance space photographer and writer for magazines and websites in Holland, Belgium and ‘Spaceflight’, the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society. van Oene is also the co-founder and CFO of SPACEPATCHES.NL. This Netherlands-based foundation currently produces all the official Soyuz crew patches for the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.