The 15th December 2015 was an exciting day for Brits everywhere, as it was the day that Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station left the Baikonur Cosmodrome. On Wednesday, it will be six months since Tim Peake left for Expeditions 46 and 47, in total just a six month mission.
The BBC broadcast a New Year’s message from him, plus let’s not forget that he also joins a long list of people who have presented the CBeebies Bedtime Hour Story. But in the near on six months he has been up there, what has the first British astronaut done on the Principia mission?
What he’s up to
Tim’s taking part in a study that’s measuring the amount of nitric oxide that astronauts exhale whilst they’re in space. Everyone inhales and exhales nitric oxide molecules, but the amount exhaled can be an indication of how inflamed someone’s lungs are.
Doctors on Earth are still testing the levels of nitric oxide to help diagnose asthma and other lung conditions, but in order to enable the monitoring of astronauts health in future, Tim’s wearing a portable gas mask that will analyse the levels of the molecule as he breathes, at both normal ISS pressure and at half pressure using the Quest airlock.
He’s also assisting in an experiment investigating our circadian rhythms; our body clocks. Here on Earth, our bodies are roughly in tune with the 24-hour clock, but in today’s modern society, many don’t work according to that clock; it just wouldn’t work if we did.
As a result, however, sleeping problems are common, yet nobody really fully understands them. Astronauts on the ISS experience 16 sunrises and sunsets a day. His body clock will be monitored and is of interest to future astronauts, and, as the ESA says, those here on Earth that work irregular hours such as doctors and emergency workers.[video:https://youtu.be/VSm5k-gQdnA]
Enhancing future space missions
They’re also measuring Tim’s ‘energy expenditure,’ to plan adequate food supplies for future missions, which is useful for more long haul missions (such as to Mars). Researchers also hope to see how the stressful conditions on the ISS affect his immune system, plus space’s impact on his muscles and has regularly filled in questionnaires to measure the headaches many get in space, and they’re reportedly unlike anything felt on Earth.
Scientists want to find out how metals form on multiple scales, but on Earth many different gravity related processes make it difficult to do so. Tim was tasked with undertaking this task but in weightlessness, using the Electromagnetic Levitator in the Columbus laboratory, a furnace that can heat metals up to 2000 Celsius without any contact.
Doing these tests in space removes the complexity to allow scientists to see the core process of the physics in the metals, with the Electromagnetic Levitator suspending the metals in mid-air during testing. Metals are then returned to Earth for analysis.
More than just science
The Principia mission is also conducting a test where microscopic dust particles are being injected into a neon and argon tube, to act as atom substitutes. Floating around in the atomic gas, they will collect negative charges as the positive ions start to repel each other; just like atoms do in a fluid state. This research simply isn’t possible on Earth because of gravity, and is helping scientists to understand the interactions of atoms.
In his time on the ISS, Tim has completed, or is yet to complete, thirty experiments for the European Space Agency and several more for partners of the Space Station.
He aims to inspire many schoolchildren with his mission to the ISS, but let’s not forget one, slightly less scientific thing he has done that many remember well – the night he gave a BRIT award to Adele.[video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMGr3N6KoTQ]
What do you think of Tim Peake’s work on the International Space Station? Have your say in the comments section below.