There are many routes into space, British astronaut Tim Peake told pupils at a London primary school today.
The former military test pilot is due to join the crew on the International Space Station (ISS) on 15 December and is keen to use the opportunity to inspire a generation to pursue careers in science.
“I went to Chichester High School,” he told children at Queen’s Park Primary. “I had a science background. I studied maths, physics and chemistry at A-level which I enjoyed. I thought I might want to join an aerospace agency.”
But, speaking over a video link from the Nasa space centre in Houston, Texas, Major Peake said joining his school cadet force influenced his future as much as his studies.
“I think it’s important to have a wide range of interests," he said. "For me the cadet force gave me experience not just of flying but going on expeditions, all those other things which are important in developing character.”
And he added that for budding astronauts, while having a solid science education was the launchpad to a space career, there was no single way in.
“What suits one person does not suit another,” he said. “What is most important is to find out what you really enjoy and doing that is probably what you’ll be good at, too.”
Major Peake, the first Brit to be selected as an astronaut by the European Space Agency (ESA), took time out from his training in the US to talk to 9- to 11-year-old pupils during a special press conference about his forthcoming six-month mission.
There are already 5,000 UK schools engaged in projects connected with the mission, which has been named Principia after Newton’s scientific text.
There are 30 educational programmes planned or underway, ranging from taking rocket seeds to space which will then be planted and compared with earthbound seeds to following "train like an astronaut" exercise programmes. The UK Space Agency and ESA have launched details on the new Principia website.
Ten-year-old Susu El-abbas asked Major Peake whether he had trust in science, prompting a smile from a man who is about to hurtle through the atmosphere to board the ISS, which is travelling around earth at more than 17,000 mph.
“I have a huge belief in science,” he said. “I loved studying it and it is something I do as a hobby, I pick up science books and read them. I have a huge amount of trust in science.”
Mario Albu, 9, said afterwards that watching Major Peake talk about his mission was inspiring and exciting.
He added: “I love science. It’s my favourite subject because I like experimenting and finding out how things are done. I just really like discovering things.”
Major Peake was one of six people selected to train as an astronaut by the ESA from a pool of more than 8,000 applicants.