As the European Space Agency’s first British astronaut, Tim Peake spent six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Launched to the ISS on 15th December 2015, his arrival wasn’t without complications; whilst docking, the navigation system failed and a manual docking had to be completed by another astronaut. Apparently, this didn’t spoil Tim’s appetite; we’re told that he tucked in with gusto to his first meal in space – a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.
Living and working with half a dozen other crew members, Tim’s memorable stay upon the ISS saw him participate in the first spacewalk outside the ISS by a British astronaut, give press conferences and become the first man to run a marathon from space. Who better, then, to be your guide on the Science Museum’s new, virtual reality space mission, which puts you in the pilot’s seat of a Soyuz capsule just like the one that brought Tim home?
‘Space Descent VR with Tim Peake’ gives you a 360-degree look inside a Soyuz capsule whilst you live through the thrills – and dangers – of being an astronaut as you retrace Tim’s 400km journey back to Earth from the ISS. Tim’s narration is great – incisive and funny – meaning that this 12-minute journey packs a real punch. He describes each stage of the journey in an informative and absorbing manner, explaining how you acclimatise to the capsule, how its rockets work and why – scarily – you see flames and fireballs outside when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
I was enthralled – and I hadn’t expected to be. I loved the fact that, from the pilot’s seat, you not only enjoy the sight of the Earth looming ahead, but are able to look around the entire capsule – and out of its windows. Interesting fact (again, courtesy of Tim): did you know that the windows are the most vulnerable elements of spacecraft, so are deliberately kept as small as possible?
Tim, who describes this virtual experience as “very close to the real thing” is brutally honest about the challenges, both mental and physical, of being an astronaut. I relished his description of landing in the Kazakhstan desert (“It’s like being hit by a truck”); in case you were ever to find yourself in such a situation, he recommends adopting the brace position and trying your best not to bite your tongue.
One final comment: you can see the actual Soyuz spacecraft used by Tim Peake on the ground floor of the Museum. Not to be missed – just like this exhilarating virtual reality journey.