British astronaut Tim Peake inspired hundreds of thousands of school pupils today as he spoke to them live from the International Space Station.
“Just do what you really enjoy doing,” Major Peake told students as he demonstrated how serious science could also be lots of fun.
Speaking from the ISS as it travelled around Earth at 285 miles per minute, Major Peake explained to Chloe, 6, from Golden Flatts Primary School in Hartlepool, that the station “tricks” gravity by travelling so fast that, although it is pulled towards Earth, it constantly misses it.
During the 20-minute lesson, which was streamed live through the TES website, Major Peake crouched down, spun around and touched his toes in order to demonstrate that without gravity it is much harder to stop moving and much easier to do somersaults.
“We are so privileged to get to work up here,” he said. “It is like playing in a playground of weightlessness.”
Major Peake also answered some of the 7,000 questions which were submitted by school children, including whether his heart was beating faster (it actually beats slower because it has to work less hard), what his favourite button was (the one which opens the air lock to outer space) and whether it was fun to drink water bubbles (yes, a lot of fun).
Cadie Fisher, 9, of Thorpedene Primary School, in Southend, Essex, said: “It was really exciting. My favourite bit was when he touched his toes and then rolled around. It was really funny. I wish I could go to space – maybe when I am 31.”
The event was centred on a live presentation at the World Museum in Liverpool, where pupils from 12 schools around Britain took part in workshops ranging from "training like an astronaut" to modelling planets.
After the workshops, the pupils gathered to watch Kevin Fong – space medicine scientist and television personality – host the live link-up on a giant screen.
Dr Fong, who gave the 2015 Royal Institution Christmas lectures on the subject of human space flight, told TES why he thought space held such a fascination for children. “Space is about their future,” he said. “It gives them a sense that anything is possible, which is really what you want to encourage children to think – that they can move into this future and create it.”
Matthew Savage, 9, of St Anne’s Fulshaw CE Primary, in Wilmslow, Cheshire, said he wanted to know about the possibility of a meteorite or spacejunk hitting the International Space Station because of the speed at which objects travel in space.
Tim Peake told him that the space station was hit all the time by small particles, but if anything larger was spotted in the space station’s path the craft moved course.
“It was really exciting being chosen to ask a question,” said Matthew, who was at the World Museum. “My parents were really excited for me.” His deputy head, Penny Thomas, had bought a dress decorated in planets especially for the occasion. “I haven’t stopped smiling for two weeks – since I discovered we were one of the chosen schools,” she said.
Jeremy Curtis, head of education and skills for the UK Space Agency, said: “This is one of the biggest education projects taking place during Tim Peake’s mission. Because it is happening at the same time across the country as a whole, there is a real buzz about it.”
Vicki Capstick, Year 3 and 4 teacher at Shap CE Primary, near Penrith, Cumbria, was one of the teachers who travelled to Liverpool for the event. She said: “The children will take away so much more from this day than I could possibly teach them in a term.”
Karen Kilkenny, head of Chapter House prep school, part of Queen Ethelburga’s College, York, said: “It is an absolutely fantastic event. It just brings it to life for the children. To have a live link-up and contact Tim Peake brings science to life. It is not just real world learning, it is out-of-this-world learning.”
The Cosmic Classroom event was watched by an estimated 300,000 students, in more than 10,000 schools registered to take part. Students tuned in not just from the UK, but from elsewhere around the world. Schools in the USA, Australia, the Philippines, Egypt, India, Pakistan and China were among those registered. But no registration was required to watch the broadcast, which was open to all.
Major Peake, 43, is the first official British astronaut. He is flying after being selected to join the European Space Agency astronaut training programme. He is the seventh Briton in space, previous astronauts have flown on private missions or as foreign citizens.