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Science in space

At this moment, 220 miles above planet Earth, British astronaut Tim Peake is zooming through space in the International Space Station, or ISS. He blasted off from Kazakstan on  the 15 December 2015 after years of special astronaut training.

Tim Peake isn’t the first British astronaut. Dr Helen Sharman, a chemist from Sheffield, became the first Briton in space when she visited the Mir space station in 1991. However, Peake is the first British astronaut to be part of a European Space Agency (ESA) mission, and will be spending 6 months on the ISS as part of the Pricipia mission.

If you’d like to know more about how Tim Peake became an astronaut, there’s a brilliant time line on the BBC.

He isn’t just up there for the view, though. There are hundreds of experiments being run on the ISS, and Tim Peake will be involved in many of them as part of Pricipia. These include:

1. Thermolab and Equisol – both of these experiments will look at how metal alloys behave in space, in extreme conditions.

The International Space Station, image courtesy NASA
The International Space Station, image courtesy NASA

This may help us develop new materials useful for technology, medicine or others purposes.

2. Expose-R2 – Could life exist in space? What about on Mars? Experiments running on the ISS are looking at the effects of space on biological material which will help us understand what might happen to plants, animals and people on longer space missions.

3. iVoice and EPSILON – New technology is being tested to see if you can get an idea of the mental wellbeing of a person by studying their voice and speech, and also how to provide psychological support for astronauts on long journeys. Both of these pieces of research are essential if we are planning on longer space missions, like missions to Mars.

4. Measuring brain pressure in space – Space travel isn’t without risk, even once you’ve made it up to the space station itself. Astronauts sometimes suffer from vision problems, and researchers want to know if it’s because of an increase in pressure within the brain because of the weightless environment.

5. METERON – Another research project that could help with future Mars missions. This one is all about human-robot interaction and communication technologies, as future Mars missions will likely involve astronauts in orbit controlling rovers on the planet surface remotely.

Astronaut Tim Peake
Astronaut Tim Peake

You can follow Tim Peake, learn more about life on the ISS and the science that’s going on there, plus see videos and resources on the Pricipia website. The website also has some amazing activities you can get involved in, including the chance to have Tim Peake visit your school once he returns to Earth!

The ISS is actually visible from Earth on clear nights. It looks a little like a moving star, shining brightly but moving steadily in a single direction. You can work out when and where to spot it on the NASA website.

If you’re looking for a fun end-of-term class idea, how about a space quiz or space bingo? There are plenty of fun facts about the International Space Station on to choose from. To play space bingo divide the class into small groups, make up a selection of bingo cards with different numbers on them that relate to the ISS, and give one to each group of students. Then put together the same numbers individually into a pot, and get each child to pick out a number. Read out what the number relates to, and if a group has it on their bingo card, they can mark it off. The first group to complete their card wins!


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