Tim Peake Comes Home!
Tim is in for a bumpy ride. We explore his landing, his post-flight recovery, and reflect on our favourite mission moments.
Where have six months gone? It’s hard to believe that Tim Peake is already wrapping up his mission on board the International Space Station (ISS) and making his final preparations to come home.
What will he experience during re-entry on 18 June, how can you watch, and what happens next for Tim?
Landing with a bump
Early on Saturday morning (British time), the three crewmates will make their way from the ISS to their docked Soyuz spacecraft, saying their goodbyes to the crew staying behind. After the hatch is closed, hooks that connect the Soyuz spacecraft will release and the Soyuz will be gently pushed away from the ISS.
After a series of engine burns to slow the Soyuz and send it on a return course for Earth, the part of the Soyuz containing the crew (the conical Soyuz Descent Module) will separate from the rest of the Soyuz and begin its fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere. The exact path has to be just right or else the Soyuz either will enter too quickly and land hard, or else skip off the top of the atmosphere like a stone skipping on water. Luckily the Soyuz flight controllers have a lot of practice.
By mid-morning on Saturday, Tim and his crewmates will be entering Earth’s atmosphere. Around 10am, four parachutes will slow the capsule down to about 16 miles an hour, and just two seconds before landing, thrusters will fire downwards to slow the Soyuz to about 3 miles an hour. After a big jolt, Tim will return to Earth around 10:15am BST.
Here’s how the day will go
~4am BST – Hatch closes between the ISS and the Soyuz spacecraft.
6:51am – Undocking from ISS begins. The hooks that connect the Soyuz and the ISS are released and the Soyuz is gently pushed away.
6:54am – Once the Soyuz is far enough away from the ISS, it burns its engines twice, first for 15 seconds and then for 21 seconds, to send it on a return course for Earth.
9:21 – De-orbit burn for 4 minutes 45 seconds, which slows the Soyuz down so that it can safely enter Earth’s atmosphere.
9:49am – Soyuz descent module (containing the crew) separates from the orbital module and the instrument compartment, which drift away and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere
9:51am – Soyuz descent module enters Earth’s atmosphere
10:00am – Parachutes are deployed for final 15-minute descent, slowing the Soyuz module to 16mph.
10:14am – Two seconds before landing, six thrusters fire to slow the Soyuz module to about 3mph.
10:15am – Soyuz lands on the Kazakh Steppe in northern Kazakhstan, bordering Russia.
This ESA video is an excellent summary of a Soyuz landing, including interviews with astronauts who describe what it feels like.
Total journey time: 3 hours and 24 minutes
(all timings subject to change)
Life after space
Immediately after landing, Tim and his crewmates will be lifted out of the Soyuz and given a medical check. Most astronauts feel extremely weak, a bit nauseous, and disorientated for the first few weeks after they return, symptoms that are collectively called Entry Motion Sickness or EMS. This is because their bodies have adjusted to life in space where there is no up, down, or gravity to work against.
Tim’s muscles and bones will have deteriorated in space, despite his two hours of exercise every day. This means he will need to slowly build up his strength back on Earth and be careful not to break any bones.
His sense of balance is likely to be off for the first few days as his brain relearns how to use the sensory signals within his inner ear, signals that aren’t very helpful in space. So he may have trouble walking, turning, and coordinating his movements.
Astronauts on long-duration missions like Tim’s have also reported other strange side effects after returning to Earth, such as itchy, sensitive skin, blurred vision, and weakened immune systems. These largely temporary effects are currently being investigated as we look at sending humans on longer missions to the Moon and Mars.
Tim will spend the next ten weeks after landing rehabilitating with ESA and Roscosmos, and spending time with his wife and two sons in Houston, Texas.
This Autumn, Tim is planning a special UK tour, visiting several capital cities and science centres around the UK.
Highlights from Tim’s mission
Tim has had a fabulous six months in space, charming us with his cool under pressure and his constant smile. His mission highlights include performing a 4.5-hour spacewalk on 15 January along with NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, running the London Marathon from space on 24 April in the very respectable time of 3 hours 35 minutes, driving a Stevenage-based robotic rover from the ISS on 29 April, and inspiring countless school children with in-flight phone calls, lessons from space, and outreach activities (we particularly loved the Rocket Seed challenge here at the National Space Centre).
But day to day, Tim and his crewmates spent most of their time as scientists and technicians, performing over 250 different experiments during their time on the ISS. Tim mostly focused on how the human body changes in space, how fluids behave in space, and how materials change properties in space, all experiments that can both improve life here on Earth and help us plan for future long-duration missions to the Moon or Mars.
One of my favourite experiments from Tim’s mission was his ‘forge’ in space where he melted metals at temperatures of 2100oC and looked at how they reformed into solids as they cooled. Without gravity, metals solidify differently and this knowledge could help engineers on Earth make new ‘designer’ materials that are lighter, stronger, or more pliable.
To re-live Tim’s Principia mission over the past six months, the European Space Agency has prepared this highlights reel showing everything from the sublime (Tim walking outside the Space Station) to the mundane (Tim’s hoovering and cleaning duties).