Tim Peake to boldly go where no Brit has gone before on spacewalk

15 Jan 2016

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy on a previous spacewalk outside the ISS. Image via NASA

Later today (15 January), British astronaut Time Peake will boldly go where no British person has gone before as he exits the International Space Station (ISS) on his first spacewalk.

It’s been a lot of firsts for Tim Peake since he blasted off into space to join the crew of the ISS just over a month ago, and now just before lunchtime our time (12.55 GMT) he will achieve another first.

He won’t be alone, of course, as safety comes in numbers, and joining him will be fellow Tim, Tim Kopra from NASA, with both men set to traverse the length of the space station to do some ‘household chores’ with some repairs.

Among the scheduled repairs and additions that will be undertaken by the pair include the fixing of a broken power unit, a new valve and cabling and, to make matters more challenging, the pair will be against the clock.

If the pair were unable to install the new power unit and make the necessary repairs before the ISS once again emerges from behind the solar eclipse, the station will be effectively unable to generate electricity from its 16 powerful solar panels.


Tim Peake in his spacesuit during training. Image via ESA/NASA

Thankfully, it’s very unlikely that this will happen given the hours upon hours of training that goes into each and every spacewalk even before the astronauts make it to the ISS.

“We have spent many hours working in our spacesuits, ‘floating’ in the largest swimming pool on Earth with a Space Station mock-up,” Peake said in his blog yesterday.

“We have used virtual reality headsets to reenact our operations and trained for the worst case scenario of becoming detached from the space station, but I guess nothing can fully prepare for the feeling of being outside of a spacecraft in the vacuum of space.”


Tim Peake and Tim Kopra undergoing VR EVA training. Image via NASA Virtual Reality Laboratory

Officially called extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) by space agencies and astronauts, spacewalks take a huge toll on the human body if not done correctly, with both Peake and Kopra needing to spend at least two hours in a contained unit breathing pure oxygen to make sure all of the nitrogen in their system is extracted.

All-in-all, the spacewalk is expected to take approximately six hours and 30 minutes, during which time neither astronaut will be able to leave their suit, which means no food, which should make the fact that they can’t go to the toilet either that little bit easier.

Throughout the experience, the pair will be totally reliant on each other to spot anything that might lead to trouble for either of them as the remaining astronauts aboard the ISS will have little input in a disaster situation.

“The helmet in our EMU suits does not move, so I rely on Tim to check nothing is caught or snagging, as Tim relies on me to check his back. Spacewalks, like many critical operations, operate on the buddy-buddy system,” Peake said. “Tim and I will constantly be checking each other and relying on each other for assistance if something should go wrong.”

Once 12.55pm rolls around, you can watch the two Tims undertake their spacewalk live online below with a special prize for anyone that watches the full six hours and 30 minutes! Okay, the last part might not be true, but kudos goes to you if you do it.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic