WASHINGTON — Well before Tim Peake boarded the International Space Station Dec. 15, a mob of self-appointed copy editors mobbed Twitter to quibble with the idea that this big-smiling European astronaut was really the first British person to visit ISS.
Technically, the mob is correct.
Besides Peak, six other British-born travellers have stripped gravity’s surly bonds and made the trip Earth to orbit.
Of the five of these who beat Peake to ISS, four were NASA astronauts with U.S. citizenship. Check the rules on USAjobs.gov: you have to be an American to get in NASA’s corps.
The UK’s fifth ISS visitor, Richard Garriott, flew as a space tourist and spent his time aboard the station’s Russian segment.
Meanwhile, the very first British-born astronaut, Helen Sharman, visited the now-deorbited Russian station Mir as part of a public-private partnership between British industry and the Soviet cosmonaut corps.
But Peake? He’s British-born with British citizenship, and a member of the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps — an unambiguously British combination that, on paper at least, makes Peake more like his fellow Brits than any spacefarer who preceded him.
All that counts for something. Exhibit A: a throng of cheering Brits who packed the Science Museum in London to witness Peake’s arrival on station.
The video above, produced by Stuart Reeves of the Science Museum, London, in association with Imperative Space, features many of the event’s special guests, including Alexi Leonov, Chris Hadfield, ESA’s Andreas Mogensen, first British citizen in space Helen Sharman, UK science minister Jo Johnson, and physicist and TV science presenter Helen Czerski.
Peake and a pair of fellow astronauts docked at ISS a mere six hours after their Russian Soyuz spacecraft and rocket — the only rides to space these days for astronauts — launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.