MAJOR Tim Peake may have stepped down from his role as a professional astronaut, but he still has high hopes of returning to the International Space Station.
Not for a spacewalk – or to photograph the sunrise 250 miles above Earth – but to save yourself back pain with a weightless night’s sleep.
The former British Army Air Corps pilot, who was aboard the International Space Station from 2015 to 2016, admits he forgot the feeling of gravity during his time in orbit.
After six months of sleeping in a bag strapped to the wall, he was quickly – and painfully – reminded of what it felt like to climb into bed during his first week on Earth.
Major Tim tells The Sun: “After my mission and back on Earth everything felt so heavy – you feel the feeling of gravity again.
“You forget how punishing it really is for your body.
“Usually when you lie down after a hard day and take the pressure off your feet, you feel yourself relaxing – but when you’ve been in space for months, floating, you come back and everything feels very heavy.
“Sleeping is so painful – you have all these pressure points on your body as you toss and turn and you forget what it feels like.
“Take me back to space so I can sleep.”
Tim, 51, signed up as a European Space Agency astronaut in 2009 after spending 17 years and over 3,000 flight hours in the Army as a captain and later as a test pilot.
“We do groundbreaking research”
Six years later, in December 2015, he was launched into space alongside Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Tim Kopra to the sound of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” before returning to Earth in June 2016.
However, Tim never intended to become an astronaut; he simply aspired to a career that would challenge him intellectually and physically.
He explains: “Becoming an astronaut wasn’t part of my long-term plan, but I’ve always liked to keep my options open when it comes to what I do next in my career.
“The more I became involved as a military test pilot, the more I realized this was the area I was meant to work in.
“It had this passion, and being an astronaut was just a consequence of that.
“With my background as a test pilot and Army officer, I was used to working in higher risk environments, so my family was also prepared for the dangers of life in space.
“Even though it involves thinking about and dealing with the danger, I knew what we were doing in space and the research was absolutely worth the risk.
“Although I’m honest, I would say that being an astronaut is less risky than being a test pilot in terms of what you have to do on a day-to-day basis, so it seemed like a natural progression.
“I’ve never been afraid of being in space or the elements involved in a launch – that’s because of the mindset I really put myself in, like when I went into the cave in my twenties.
“I would go into these dark holes and canyons, turn off the lights and sit in the darkness and silence before walking down these caves for six hours straight.
“It prevents you from feeling claustrophobic or having a panic attack, and I felt the same way when I fired a rocket.”
Only 628 people have been in space – a fact that Tim could use as a modest bragging point. But he insists it is the rarity of this achievement that keeps him grounded.
The father of two adds that the desire to be with his family – wife Rebecca and their sons Thomas, 14, and Oliver, 11 – is keeping him from returning to the ISS and beyond.
Tim says: “When I returned from my last mission, one of the first things I did when I got home was to do the dishes and empty the trash bags to continue being a father and husband.
“I expect we will be on Mars by the end of the 2030s, and if someone sent me there then and I wasn’t too old and decrepit, I would definitely go.”
“I would then leave because my children would be grown up and they wouldn’t need me anymore, but now I should stay on earth a little longer for them.”
Instead, Tim has turned to television with his new three-part documentary series.
Inspired by the same sense of wonder he shares with his sons, the astronaut made The Secrets Of Our Universe for Channel 5.
He will be joined by a range of space science and exploration experts as he travels around the globe, from Arizona in the US to Western Australia, for an in-depth look at the planets, black holes and life in space.
He wants to answer the questions that have bothered him his entire life: How did we get here, what is life about and is there intelligent life outside of Earth?
Tim says: “I used to look out my bedroom window and just stare at the sky and ask these questions, and I think everyone has that experience at some point.
“I never got bored thinking about it because space is fascinating and it really never gets boring.
“We are currently making groundbreaking progress in exploring whether there is life outside Earth.
“I think we will have an answer to this question and some evidence in the next 50 to 100 years, thanks to new equipment that will allow us to study what is out there in much more detail.”
And with the influx of money being pumped into research and discovery by billionaires around the world, the new frontier of discovery seems closer than ever.
SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Axiom Space are among the dozens of commercial companies currently operating in the costly and lucrative sector.
“Start in London, land in Sydney in 45 minutes”
But despite mounting criticism of the billionaire space race, Tim admits he has no problem with the likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson getting involved.
He says: “I equate it with looking at the 1920s and who was able to fly across the Atlantic.”
“It was only high net worth individuals, but now it’s affordable for many – and I think it’s thanks to these commercial companies that we’re going to be where we’re going to be with space travel.”
“Suborbital flights are currently landing back in the same departure area, but there is no reason why we cannot operate flights that take off from London and land in Sydney after 45 minutes.
“It would be a game changer, provided we do it responsibly and sustainably.
“Of course the public is not in favor of watching rich people on these suborbital flights, but we need to keep thinking about where the technology could take us.
“We need these types of partnerships because, frankly, without SpaceX and Axiom developing new spacesuits, we can’t get to the moon.
“These commercial companies are really important.”
The concern, he explains, is that nations do not want to sign the Artemis Treaty, a treaty for international cooperation in the exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Tim says: “24 nations have signed, but crucially Russia and China have not signed and we need all major players around the world to play by the rules in space.”
“So far, space has been a rather peaceful endeavor, but it clearly has a military connotation, as space represents the ultimate plateau from a military perspective.
“There are also current concerns about space overpopulation and space debris – while ensuring that launch and travel into space becomes much more sustainable.
“We are operating under a 1967 treaty that is no longer fit for purpose, so it’s a bit like the Wild West at the moment.”
“We need to update this framework so that we are all operating under the same rules and ensuring the protection of space.”
- Tim Peake’s The Secrets Of Our Universe starts September 19th at 9pm on Channel 5.
Number of applicants Tim beat for a place in the European Space Agency’s astronaut training program in 2009
Days Tim spent wearing his zero-gravity spacesuit in an underwater laboratory in 2012
How many times Major Tim orbited the Earth after his mission, covering 125 million kilometers
Tim was the first British ESA astronaut to complete a spacewalk