Honoring one of England’s most famous scientists, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake will bear a colorful mission patch on the arm of his Russian-made Sokol (“Falcon”) launch and entry suit when he rockets into orbit on 20 November 2015 to begin a six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station (ISS). His patch, designed by a 13-year-old British schoolboy, following a lengthy competition, was revealed Thursday, 27 November. Although Britons have flown previously aboard Russian and U.S. spacecraft—notably Helen Sharman, way back in May 1991—Peake will become the first astronaut fully sponsored by the U.K. Government ever to journey into space.
As such, his mission drew much public interest, virtually from the moment he was assigned to Expedition 46/47, back in May 2013. According to ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain, the decision to select Peake for a long-duration flight was approved by the ISS Multilateral Crew Operations Panel (MCOP), and he became the fourth member of the six-strong 2009 group of European astronauts—nicknamed “The Shenanigans”—to receive a mission assignment. In March 2014, Peake requested submissions from the public to name his six-month expedition, which had to be “a word or short combination of words,” but “not … a personal name, unless it is a mythological name with a commonly known symbolic meaning.” Four months later, in July, after more than 4,000 suggestions, the name “Principia” was chosen—a name which honors not only science, but also one of England’s greatest scientists, Sir Isaac Newton.
Today, Newton is almost universally acknowledged as one of the most influential scientists of all time, having published the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), commonly known simply as “Principia,” in July 1687. Written in three volumes, Newton’s work stated his famous laws of motion and law of universal gravitation—which would dominate scientific thinking of the physical Universe over the next 300 years—and was later described by the 18th-century French mathematical physicist Alexis Clairaut as having “spread the light of mathematics on a science which up to then had remained in the darkness of conjectures and hypotheses.” As well as laying the foundations for classical mechanics, Newton also made significant contributions to the development of calculus and of optics.
The next stage in the process after naming Peake’s mission as “Principia” was the construction of an official patch, and the oft-told story of an apple falling from a tree—said to have been observed by Newton as a gravitational indicator—seemed an obvious centerpiece in its design. Although the tale of the apple has been supported as fact and berated as myth over the past three centuries, a conversation between Newton and the English antequarian William Stukeley does support the reality of such an incident. “Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground?” the scientist rhetorically asked Stukeley, in discussion one day in Kensington, London, in April 1726. “Why should it not go sideways or upwards, but constantly to the Earth’s center? Assuredly, the reason is that the Earth draws it. There must be a drawing power in matter and the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the Earth must be in the Earth’s center, not in any side of the Earth.”
Finally, on 27 November 2014, following the submission of more than 3,000 entries by U.K. schoolchildren, aged between six and 15, the patch for Tim Peake’s Principia mission was formally unveiled … and, indeed, it featured Newton’s descending apple in pride of place. The patch was designed by 13-year-old schoolboy Troy from Cheshire, in the north of England, who was shown the final version by Peake himself at the Science Museum in London. “I was absolutely ecstatic,” Troy told the BBC’s “Blue Peter” television program of the moment he learned that his design had won the competition. “I loved it!”
“Troy’s patch really stood out,” said Peake, after meeting the young artist, and noted that he particularly admired its simplicity of design and its message. “It told a great story of the Soyuz launching to the International Space Station, with Sir Isaac Newton’s apple falling to Earth, under Earth’s gravity, a very striking, colorful patch.” The astronaut added a few tweaks to the design, in order to enhance its “Britishness,” including the red, white, and blue tricolor of the Union Jack to the patch’s circular outline, as well as the U.K. landmass in pride of place on the representation of Earth and a stylized silhouette of the space station in place of the light reflection on the apple itself. An additional asset of the apple’s presence, according to ESA in its official announcement of the patch, was that Peake “is promoting healthy eating as part of his mission and apples are healthy!”
Several “Britons” have flown into space—the first being Helen Sharman, aboard Soyuz TM-12 to the Mir orbital station, in May 1991—but so far none of them have done so with the official backing and financial support of the U.K. Government. Sharman’s eight-day voyage was a wholly commercial venture, conducted under the auspices of “Project Juno.” Other astronauts, including six-time shuttle, Mir, and ISS veteran Mike Foale, together with Piers Sellers and Nick Patrick, were born in Britain, but were required to gain U.S. citizenship ahead of selection by NASA. All three rode their missions into space with the Stars and Stripes on their sleeves, rather than the Union Jack. Still more, including Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Garriott, had dual nationality, but flew as paying “space tourists.”
Britain’s lack of a human space program has proven a surprise to many Britons, when one considers that the U.K. was only the sixth nation to launch a home-grown satellite into orbit. Tiny Prospero was boosted aloft by a British-built Black Arrow rocket from Woomera, South Australia, in October 1971, and although the U.K. has proven a world leader in remote-sensing applications and satellite technology, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s virtually gutted any chance of a human space effort. At one stage, hopes were high that Royal Air Force officer Nigel Wood might fly aboard the shuttle in June 1986 as a payload specialist to oversee the deployment of the Ministry of Defence’s Skynet 4A communications satellite, but the loss of Challenger ended that possibility.
It came as a disappointment, but not a great surprise, when the ISS Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) was signed between the International Partners in January 1998, that Britain did not provide any financial contribution to the space station. However, more recently, it was reported that Britain’s space industry currently provides around £9 billion ($13.7 billion) to the national economy each year, and this provided David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, with an important leveraging tool to persuade Chancellor George Osborne to offer renewed support for ESA. In November 2012, at ESA’s Ministerial Council Meeting in Naples, Italy, the pan-European organization agreed a budget of 10 billion euros ($12.9 billion) over the next three to five years … of which 1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion) would originate from Britain.
This contribution made the U.K. one of only three member-states to actually increase its financial commitment to the space program. As well as enabling ESA to press ahead with its plan to build the service module for NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle—based upon Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) technology—Britain’s investment also included a contribution of 14.6 million euros ($18.9 million) to the European Life and Physical Sciences (ELIPS) program, which opened the door to actual research aboard the ISS and helped to enable the flight of Tim Peake.
At the time of his assignment to Expedition 46/47 in May 2013, Peake was expected to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard Soyuz TMA-19M in November 2015, joined by Russian and U.S. crewmates. A few months after his name was announced, it was revealed that veteran cosmonaut Sergei Zalyotin and experienced NASA astronaut Tim Kopra would join Peake for the mission. They would arrive at the ISS midway through the first year-long expedition aboard the station, featuring U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko, together with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov. Upon the return to Earth of Kelly, Kornienko, and Volkov in March 2016, Zaloytin would assume command of Expedition 47 through mid-May. They would be joined by the Soyuz TMA-20M crew of Russian cosmonauts Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka and NASA’s Jeff Williams in late March 2016, bringing Expedition 47 up to full, six-man strength.
Since those assignments, Zalyotin has retired from the cosmonaut corps, due to medical reasons, and been replaced by Yuri Malenchenko. According to current plans, highlighted by the Novosti Kosmonavtiki forum, Soyuz TMA-19M will launch from Baikonur, crewed by Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake, on 20 November 2015 and is expected to follow a now-standard, six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” profile to reach the ISS. After docking at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module, they will join Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Sergei Volkov to form the second half of Expedition 46. Specific plans for the mission remain to be finalized, but an EVA from the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) is provisionally scheduled for the November-December timeframe, likely involving Kelly and either Kopra or Peake. Other key features will include at least two SpaceX Dragon cargo missions, in December 2015 and February 2016, as well as Japan’s fifth H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-5) and at least one Russian Progress resupply freighter. With the departure of Kelly, Kornienko, and Volkov in mid-March 2016, Expedition 47 will begin and will shortly be augmented by the arrival of Alexei Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Jeff Williams. It is expected that Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake will return to Earth in mid-May 2016, after a mission of approximately 166 days in orbit.
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