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By Alex Tyrrell on

Tim Peake’s Return to Earth at the Science Museum

Visitors will get unique insights into the return of ESA’s British astronaut, writes Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs

To celebrate the return of British astronaut Tim Peake to Earth on Saturday morning, the first Briton in space Helen Sharman and TV presenters Helen Czerski and Dallas Campbell will offer visitors to the Science Museum an exclusive commentary.

Peake’s six month Principia mission to the International Space Station will see him land with crewmates Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra in the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Visitors can hear our distinguished panel talk about the rigours of his re-entry and touch down just after the museum opens at 10am.

Astronaut Tim Peake pictured during a previous visit to the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum.
Astronaut Tim Peake pictured during a previous visit to the Science Museum. Credit: Science Museum.

Helen Sharman, who recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her pioneering mission to the Mir space station in the museum, knows first-hand what he is experiencing, as she recently wrote in our blog:

“Re-entry, at more than five times Earth’s gravity (5.5 g), was much more dramatic than the launch, where we only experienced 3.5g. As we came through the atmosphere, I could see the ball of plasma around our descent module go orange and then yellow, before the windows were eventually blacked out by soot from the spacecraft.

When the drogue chute pulled out the main parachute we jolted from side to side. I was shocked by the violence of the re-entry. After the retrorockets fired, we tumbled a few times before being left hanging inside, as the spacecraft came to a rest on its side.”

Tim Peake’s mission to the ISS began in earnest  in 2013, when Science Museum Trustee David Willetts, as the then UK science minister, overturned the space policy that arose from what he calls “the misconceived British belief that manned spaceflight is an expensive luxury”.

While David Willetts watched his policy change come good from the launch site in Baikonur last December, over 11,000 visitors joined us in the museum on the day to celebrate Tim Peake soar into the heavens.

Around 3,000 school children cheered him into orbit along with astronauts Helen Sharman, Chris Hadfield and Andreas Mogensen and the pioneering spacewalker, Alexei Leonov. We also hosted two broadcasts by the BBC’s Stargazing Live, with Prof Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain.

The MC of the stunning event was Helen Czerski and, earlier, Dallas Campbell had discussed Helen Sharman’s Sokol (‘Falcon’) suit with her in the museum. A similar suit will be used by Tim Peake to protect in the event of a cabin depressurization during his landing.

At the end of April, when his return to Earth was slightly delayed, Peake told the European Space Agency: “Although I am looking forward to being back on Earth and seeing friends and family again, each day spent living in space is a huge privilege and there is much work to do on the Station.

“This extension will keep the Station at a full crew of six for several days longer, enabling us to accomplish more scientific research. And, of course, I get to enjoy the beautiful view of planet Earth for a little while longer!”

After he lands in the steppe of Kazakhstan, Tim Peake will return to the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, for checkups and for research into how humans adapt to living in space.

The museum has run a number of space events recently: Helen Sharman’s silver anniversary; a space fashion show – #coutureinorbit – with the European Space Agency, sponsored by Bionic Yarn; Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón, who discussed his space thriller Gravity; a Royal Society event on the future of human space exploration;  and a discussion about living in space with cosmonaut Aleksandr Lazutkin, flight engineer on the 1997 Soyuz TM-25 mission to the Mir space station, where he experienced a power cut, collision and fire.

The museum’s blockbuster Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition has just opened in Pavilion No. 1 (Central) at VDNH in Moscow.