It has been so refreshing to see how the British education authorities are using the exploits of a British astronaut on board the International Space Station as an opportunity to stimulate children’s interest in science. Many of the scientific experiments and educational projects have been specifically designed to attract young people to choose a career in science.
The astronaut in question, Tim Peake, has been thrilling schoolchildren in question-and-answer sessions as well as breaking achieving some ‘firsts’, such as becoming the first-ever British astronaut to carry out a spacewalk. He and a NASA astronaut, Tim Kopra, spent over six hours outside the outpost.
He was transported to the space station for his six-month stay in a rocket launched by the Soyuz rocket, to the excited cheers of children at London’s Science Museum, who went crazy when he gave them the ‘thumbs up’, not to mention the huge audience watching the event live on TV.It took the intrepid astronauts four orbits of the planet and about six hours to reach the Space Station.
Tim has spoken to hundreds of children since he arrived, through a live chat that took place at the World Museum in Liverpool, which was also streamed to thousands of schools where pupils conducted some simple experiments. Other children had interesting questions to ask him, such as whether the Space Station is ever struck by meteors (it is hit daily by small particles), whether our hearts beat faster in space (they actually slow down, which is why astronauts need to exercise) and how they manage to drink water without gravity (through a plastic bottle nozzle or by squeezing out a big ‘glob’ and swallowing it)!
The educational impact of Tim’s adventure started during his training for this exciting mission, covering his preparation for a potential spacewalk in a large pool, his survival training, attempts to speak Russian and experiences in the centrifuge.
Before he left, he received a lot of advice from experienced astronauts. These included sticking everything down with Velcro so it doesn’t get lost, copying what colleagues are doing in case of an incident and, of course, taking time out to stare through the windows at the unique views over our beautiful planet and the universe that surrounds it.