Looking out for aliens… Astronaut Tim Peake tells us what you can see when you’re in space

Published on: 03 August 2022

Tim Peake has written two thrilling children’s novels with author Steve Cole. Swarm Rising and Swarm Enemy are high-octane adventures where aliens try to take over the world! Danny and his best friend Jamila fight them in space and on Earth. But what’s it really like to go into space? And can you see aliens when you’re there? Tim Peake tells us everything we want to know. 

What were your feelings when you were preparing to go into space?

There are so many feelings! On the one hand there’s a huge amount of excitement and adrenaline. This is a culmination of years of work and effort so you’re really looking forward to it. There’s a little bit of apprehension as well – obviously you’ve got a rocket launch to go through! Then the eyes are on you. The eyes of the agency, the eyes of your crewmate, the eyes of the nation watching! There are times when you just have to step up to the plate and perform. You have an entire space station and an entire cargo vehicle and it’s your responsibility to connect the two. So there’s definitely apprehension but the majority of it is just excitement and adrenaline. It’s such a privileged place to be and a privileged position to work in when you are up there on the space station and everyone is supporting you to try and be the best that you can be. Danny and Jamila, in our books, have no warning that they’re about to go into space, so they have a very different experience from me!

What’s it like looking at Earth from space? It must be glorious!

It was! I just love that sometimes I’d be looking down at Kamchatka on the east coast of Russia, for example, and there’d be a volcano smoking away and I’d be thinking ‘nobody but me knows that volcano is erupting’ because there literally are no humans within 2000 square miles of that location. I’ve been around the planet about 3,000 times. There’s nowhere on Earth that I don't know now, yet, I’ve clearly not visited those countries. It’s very serene as well. It's a beautiful environment to be in: weightlessness, to be floating, to be looking down, just gracefully passing over the Earth without any noise, no vibration. It’s a beautiful, beautiful feeling.

Do you look out for aliens in space?

Absolutely! The funny thing about looking out away from Earth is that in the daytime you just see the blackness of space but it’s a very strange black. It’s the blackest black you’ll ever see. Here on Earth we never really see black because there’s always ambient light around. But in space, wow, you feel like you’re falling into the void when you look out at the blackness of space. And of course, there’s no stars because the sun is so bright that it’s blinding out the light of the other stars. So it’s just this black abyss. And then, at night-time, when you move into the Earth’s shadow, you can see  the stars again and it’s beautiful. You see 100 billion stars that make up the Milky Way with no light pollution. And the interesting thing is, you don’t see other satellites which we can see here clearly on Earth – I look up at the night sky and I’m always seeing satellites going overhead – but because the space station is travelling so fast, it’s very, very hard to see another satellite that’s also travelling very fast. So we don’t see lights coming towards us or anything like that. The aliens in our books travel through radio waves, so we wouldn’t be able to see them anyway!

How do you sleep and eat in space?

Sleeping in weightlessness is lovely once you get used to it. It’s a bit tough to begin with because your body doesn’t know to go to sleep. We forget that here on Earth all of our sleep routine has been about lying down at the end of the day, resting your head on a pillow, and they’re such strong triggers to make us fall asleep. And when you float around all day, float into your crew quarter, zip up a sleeping bag, switch off the lights, put in some earplugs, your body is not sleepy, but is just saying, ‘What now?’ Because you don’t have those strong triggers of lying down and head on the pillow. Once you get used to that, and once your body can fall asleep, wow, it’s a lovely sleep. There are no pressure points, no tossing and turning, no restlessness and you wake up completely relaxed. We only need six hours’ sleep maximum on the space station. I think the quality of sleep is so good. I used to like to strap my sleeping bag loosely, using tie wraps, and that just allowed me to float around a little bit – not so much that I’d bang my head on the roof but enough to enjoy that floating experience. With eating, you’re very unpopular with your crewmates if you open a packet of crisps or something. Crumbs go everywhere and get in people’s eyes through all the week. So we try and avoid that. I had bags of pistachio nuts, already shelled, but they were a treat that were sent up in care packages every now and again. You just have to be careful about how you eat that kind of thing. But no, you don’t really want to have crumbs in the space station!

Swarm Enemy by Tim Peake & Steve Cole publishes on 4th August with Hodder Children’s Books.

Topics: Features, Space

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