Ask an Astronaut

My Guide to Life in Space


By Tim Peake

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Was it fun to do a space walk? How squashed were you in the capsule on the way back? What were your feelings as you looked down on Earth for the first time? Were you ever scared? Where to next — the Moon, Mars, or beyond?

Based on his historic mission to the International Space Station, Ask an Astronaut is Tim Peake’s guide to life in space, and his answers to the thousands of questions he has been asked since his return to Earth. With explanations ranging from the mundane — how do you wash your clothes or go to the bathroom while in orbit? — to the profound — what’s the point? — all written in Tim’s characteristically warm style, Tim shares his thoughts on every aspect of space exploration.

From training for the mission to launch, to his historic spacewalk, to re-entry, he reveals for readers of all ages the cutting-edge science behind his groundbreaking experiments, and the wonders of daily life on board the International Space Station. The public was invited to submit questions using the hashtag #askanastronaut, and a selection are answered by Tim in the book, accompanied with illustrations, diagrams, and never-before-seen photos.




How do you become an astronaut?

If you see 16 sunrises a day in space while orbiting Earth, when do astronauts celebrate New Year?

Did you miss the weather on Earth when you were in space, and what did you miss the most?

What was your luxury item on board?

In the build-up to your mission, did you become less afraid of going into space, the more knowledge you acquired?


What does it feel like to sit on top of a 300-tonne rocket?

Why do astronauts launch from Kazakhstan?

How long do astronauts spend in quarantine before launch, and can anyone visit them?

What do you do to prepare on the day of launch?

Is it true that astronauts pee on the bus tyre, prior to launch?

How did you all fit in that Soyuz capsule?

How much computing power does the Soyuz have?

How many ‘g’s do you experience on launch?

When does the sky stop and the atmosphere become space?

Why do rockets need to go so fast?

How long does it take to get to space?

How long does it take to get to orbit?

What do astronauts actually do during launch–are you flying the spacecraft or is it done by computers?

What happens if something goes wrong during launch?

Where would you land if the launch was aborted?

How long does it take to get to the ISS?

How do you rendezvous with the ISS?

What was your scariest moment in space?

What surprised you the most when you first got into space?

Did you feel unwell when you first got to space?

Who was the first person to greet you on the ISS when you opened the hatch?


My oldest child (who has career ambitions of being an astronaut) would like to know: how, when and why did you decide to become an astronaut?

How did your skills as a pilot transfer to your career as an astronaut?

Are you more likely to become an astronaut if you join the military as a pilot or if you are a scientist?

What separated you from the other candidates who applied to be an astronaut?

How fit do you have to be to become an astronaut?

My vision is not perfect. Can I still become an astronaut?

How old was the youngest astronaut?

How old was the oldest astronaut?

What psychological training do you do to prepare for spaceflight?

How long does it take to train to become an astronaut?

What are the language requirements to become an astronaut?

Did you train in the centrifuge, and did it make you feel sick?

How do you train for weightlessness, here on Earth?

What do astronauts do when not in space?

What subjects do you have to study during mission training?

Do all astronauts receive the same level of training?

What was the worst part of training?

What was the best part of training?

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Is it true that astronauts learn to sweat the small stuff?

Life and Work on the ISS

What’s a typical day like on board the International Space Station?

What exactly is the International Space Station?

What are all the different parts of the space station?

But what’s the point?

What was the first thing you did when you arrived on the ISS?

How do you go to the toilet in space?

What happens to waste from the space station?

How does the space station get water and oxygen?

How long does it take to get used to floating in weightlessness?

What’s the best bit about floating?

Why does the ISS use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in space?

What was your daily routine when there are 16 sunrises/sunsets every day?

How did going up into space affect your sense of time?

What’s it like to sleep in space, and where do astronauts sleep?

Do the astronauts all sleep at the same time?

Did you dream differently in space, or dream of anything in particular?

Which has been your favourite experiment, and why?

What are the benefits of research done in space?

Was there a favourite part of your day in space?

Do you have time off? How do you spend your weekends?

What’s the grossest thing about living in space?

Did you have any personal reading material, and what would be your choice of book to read in space?

What surprised you most about the space station?

Can you drink a cup of tea in space?

Did you watch movies in space?

How do you wash your clothes in space?

Does your heart beat the same on the ISS as it does on Earth?

How do you cut your hair and shave in space?

What’s the atmosphere on the ISS?

What is your favourite button on the ISS, and what does it do?

What was your favourite pastime in space?

What kind of food do you eat in space?

Does food taste different in space?

What was your favourite space food?

How did it feel when you first ate in space? Doesn’t the food float back up?

Is it true that you lose your appetite in space?

What would happen if someone got sick or injured in space?

What would happen if there was a fire on the space station?

How fast is the Internet in space?

Do you have Wi-Fi on the space station?

How did you use Twitter and Facebook from space?

What exercises can you do to keep fit in space?

Was it hard running the London Marathon in space?

What happens to sweat when you exercise in space?

What did you pack to go to space?

What was the funniest moment in space?

What kind of watch do astronauts wear?

What was your most essential item/tool on board?


What do you remember as your most amazing experience on the International Space Station?

When was the first-ever spacewalk?

What was the best part of your spacewalk?

Did you feel scared at any point?

What was it like to wear the first Union Flag on a spacewalk?

I’ve heard that astronauts can get ‘the bends’ in space. How is that possible, and what would you do to treat it?

Do you have your own spacesuit or do you share it with other astronauts?

How are the routes planned for spacewalks on the ISS?

When you’re out on a spacewalk, how do you go to the toilet?

In scuba diving there is a syndrome known as ‘fear of surfacing’, where divers don’t want to come up. Did you ever feel like this on your spacewalk?

Why do astronauts train underwater for spacewalks?

What’s the most physically challenging thing you’ve done as an astronaut?

Is it really true that Velcro was invented for astronauts to scratch their nose with, whilst in their spacesuit? This is what my grandpa told me, and I don’t know whether to believe him or not… If it is true, did you have some Velcro inside your helmet?

Was there anything that surprised you on your spacewalk, which really caught your eye?

What would happen if you fell off the space station?

What happens if you drop something on a spacewalk?

Can you eat anything during a spacewalk?

How do you stay warm when it is so cold in space?

How do you keep cool in space?

Is it hard to work in the dark, out in space?

What would happen if you were hit by space debris during a spacewalk?

Which astronaut has been your hero or has inspired you in your career?

Earth and Space

Which is the more beautiful view from the ISS–Earth at night or Earth during the day?

Can you see Earth’s atmosphere from the space station–and what’s it like?

Which destinations would you now like to visit for the first time on Earth, having seen them from up in space?

Can you see aircraft or ships from space?

In your photos of aurorae, is this how they appear to the naked eye or are the colours more intense because of the camera exposure?

Can you see stars and planets from the space station, and do they look different?

Why is it that in some pictures space looks black, with no sign of any stars or planets?

Did being in space, and seeing Earth from space, change your perspective on the planet and life, or do you still feel the same?

Does space smell?

Is it noisy in space?

Is there gravity in space?

Why do you appear ‘weightless’ on the International Space Station?

How do you weigh yourself in space?

When you were in space, was there a risk of the ISS being hit by a meteor or piece of space junk?

What would happen if the space station was hit by space debris?

How problematic is space debris?

How many times did you go around Earth during your flight?

How far did you travel during your time in space?

Is there a formal protocol for ‘first contact’ with aliens?

Can you see the Great Wall of China from space?

Return to Earth

How long does it take to get back to Earth?

Do you have to do any special training or preparation in space before coming home?

Why don’t you need a heat shield when leaving Earth, but you do need one on re-entry?

Did you take any medicine to stop you feeling sick on the ride back to Earth?

How do you get back to Earth, and how fast were you going during re-entry?

How long does re-entry last and how many ‘g’s do you experience?

How hot does the inside of the Soyuz descent capsule get during descent? And how is this controlled?

What did you enjoy the most: launch or re-entry?

The landing looks hard–did you have any bad injuries?

What happens if something goes wrong during re-entry and you land off-course?

What was it like getting your first smell of Earth after being in space?

What happens after you’ve landed?

When did you have your first cuppa after landing?

When did you get to see your family again?

What was the first ‘proper’ food you ate once you came back to Earth?

What was it like to walk again, after being in weightlessness for so long?

How did it feel to have your first proper shower after being on the ISS?

Did you bring back any souvenirs from space?

Have you, or any other astronaut that you know of, ever come back to Earth and let go of something out of habit, expecting it to sit there, floating?

What are the long-term health effects of spaceflight?

Afterword: Looking to the Future

If your next mission is not to the ISS, will you have to undergo a different type of training for wherever you may go to?


Q My first question is simple: How can I become an astronaut?–Alexander Timmins, Year 9, Chichester Free School

A Well, you’ve picked a brilliant career to pursue, Alexander!

Just as the Apollo missions in the 1960s took a giant leap for mankind, so we are now on the cusp of a new golden age of space exploration. In the coming decades we can expect to colonise the Moon, set foot on Mars and travel deeper into our solar system than ever before. These dreams of human endeavour are now within touching distance, and we can all be a part of this remarkable journey.

You might say this whole book is dedicated to answering your question. And that’s because the response is not straightforward, since there is no set path to becoming an astronaut. I was 43 years old when I arrived on board the International Space Station (ISS) on 15 December 2015. I felt enormously privileged to be there and to be following the same career path as men and women I had revered all my life. It was hard to believe I had been fortunate enough to join this exclusive band of spacefarers.

A total of 545 people from 37 different nations had reached Earth’s orbit before me, since Yuri Gagarin’s first intrepid launch on 12 April 1961. As a small cadre of space explorers, we hail from a wide range of careers and backgrounds–school teachers, pilots, engineers, scientists and doctors–and from every corner of the globe. The one thing we all share is a love of exploration and a passion for human spaceflight.

Of course there are certain skills and characteristics that you need to possess as an astronaut, or acquire during training, and I’m confident that by the end of this book you’ll have a clear idea of what is the right stuff for today’s astronauts. Some of these attributes may surprise you–being good at languages, for instance, is extremely useful. Equally important is what you do before you become an astronaut. It’s key to find a career that you’re passionate about, and to be as good as you can be in that field. As we shall see, academic requirements only get you so far. It is your drive, your enthusiasm and, above all, your personality and character that will enable you to succeed.

Shortly after landing back on Earth I was asked in a press conference if I had a message for the children from my old school. My own journey had begun in a small village outside Chichester, on the south coast of England. It had taken nearly 18 years in the Army and a career as a test pilot to put me in the right place at the right time to become an astronaut. I replied, ‘You’re looking at a boy who went to Westbourne Primary School, who left school at the age of 18 with three average A-levels, and I’ve just got back from a six-month mission to space, so my message is: don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything you set your heart on.’

Make no mistake, becoming an astronaut is not easy. In fact it has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it has also been the most rewarding pursuit by far–full of tremendous experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

So what is this book? And what’s with all the questions? Well, since returning from the ISS, I’ve been amazed by the warm response from thousands of people wishing to know more about my mission and what it takes to become an astronaut. I’ve enjoyed answering intriguing questions on every aspect of my mission, from ‘Does space smell?’ to ‘Is there gravity in space?’ and ‘What’s the grossest thing about living in space?’. There have been novel questions for me, such as ‘Is there a formal protocol for first contact with aliens?’; and more sobering ones, such as ‘What would happen if you were hit by space debris during a spacewalk?’. And of course there are fun ones, such as ‘Can you have a cup of tea in space?’ (the answer is, thankfully, yes!) and ‘How do you go to the toilet in space?’, which is by far the most popular question I get asked, particularly by younger children.

I wanted to answer and expand upon as many of these questions as I could, in order to provide my own definitive account of what being an astronaut is really like–the personal, the profound; the adventure, the astrophysics; the fear, the fun. I hope both the science and the everyday details of life in space are entertaining and informative, and may provide a useful reference or handbook for the next generation of spacefarers. After all, the first person to walk on Mars may well be reading this book.

Using the hashtag #askanastronaut, the project was opened up to users on social media. Many of the wonderful submissions from Twitter and Facebook are included in the book, as indicated by the names after some of the questions. In other cases, where more than one person asked the same or a similar question, I have created an amalgamation. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the project. Even if your name is not included on these pages, your curiosity and thoughtfulness have played an enormous role in shaping the book, and I am hugely grateful for your inquisitiveness.

I have tried to cover all of the key parts of my mission in this book, which is structured into seven chapters: ‘Launch’, ‘Training’, ‘Life and Work on the ISS’, ‘Spacewalking’, ‘Earth and Space’, ‘Return to Earth’ and ‘Looking to the Future’. As well as answering your questions, I have also answered some of my own. I have tried to share insights into my journey to space, from describing the training and preparation, to the science behind the ISS, the experiments on board, the beauty of Earth from 400 km up, the thrill of travelling at supersonic speeds through the atmosphere, the excitement and perils of walking in space, the camaraderie of the crew, and the change of perspective as a result of these astonishing experiences.

Writing and researching the book, and reliving my time on the space station, has been a fascinating experience. I hope that with such a variety of subjects covered, it will be of interest to readers of all ages. Some of the answers are quite long and technical, while others are much shorter. So to give you a taste of what is to come, here are a few quick questions and answers to get you started.

Q If you see 16 sunrises a day in space while orbiting Earth, when do astronauts celebrate New Year?

A Since the time zone on the space station is the equivalent of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the clock strikes midnight on New Year at the same time as in London. If nothing else, we need more British astronauts in space purely for this reason! However, each astronaut on board will usually celebrate New Year when it strikes midnight in their home nation.

Q Did you miss the weather on Earth when you were in space, and what did you miss the most?

A This is going to sound strange, but I really missed the rain. I had no access to a shower for six months and I love exercising outdoors, so when I was running on a treadmill, confined to a warm module on the space station, the idea of cold drizzle on my face sounded blissful.

Q What was your luxury item on board?

A The item that I got the most pleasure from was definitely my camera, since photography became a new-found passion whilst I was in space and a source of excitement, wonder and satisfaction. I treasure the photographs I took from space and, even looking back through them now, I can always remember exactly when and where the space station was when I took them. However, I wouldn’t describe our cameras as luxury items, since we regularly used them for valuable Earth observation science. In terms of pure decadence, I think the best luxury item was a small coolbox that arrived on the Dragon resupply spacecraft, addressed to the crew from the kind folk at SpaceX (which manufactures rockets and spacecraft), which just happened to be packed full of ice cream!

Q In the build-up to your mission, did you become less afraid of going into space, the more knowledge you acquired?

A During astronaut training (which we will explore in detail in Chapter 2), as you gain knowledge, it certainly helps to allay some of the concerns you may have about the higher-risk parts of a mission, such as performing a spacewalk, launch, re-entry and emergency situations. More importantly, knowledge gives you the ability to generate options to deal with difficult situations, and prevents you from making poor choices in the first place. As NASA astronaut and commander of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, once quipped, ‘A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.’

Our training is exemplary, and all astronauts owe a huge debt to the incredible team of trainers and instructors who dedicate themselves to ensuring that we are fully prepared to execute our mission safely and effectively.

I walked out to the launch pad feeling completely ready to go to space, eagerly anticipating the thrill and excitement of the best ride of my life. If you had asked me right then if I was afraid of going to space, my immediate reaction would have been to say, ‘No way!’ However, flying to space involves risks that no amount of knowledge, training or preparation can mitigate. All astronauts understand and weigh up these risks prior to launch, but no one can guarantee that something catastrophic (by which I mean loss of the spacecraft or crew) will not occur. Saying goodbye to my family just before launch was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. By strapping into a rocket you are voluntarily rolling the dice, and there’s a chance you will not be coming home.

Fear is a feeling induced by perceived danger, and if someone doesn’t perceive a danger when sitting on top of ten storeys of highly flammable rocket fuel, then they probably don’t fully understand their predicament! A more accurate answer would have been to say, ‘Sure, there’s a part of me that’s afraid, but I’ve dealt with that and it’s not what I’m thinking about right now.’

This seems like a good time to introduce the first chapter: LAUNCH!


Q What does it feel like to sit on top of a 300-tonne rocket?

A 15 December 2015, Kazakhstan. 14.33 local time. Launch minus 2 hours, 30 minutes.

I was standing 50 metres above the launch site, at the top of the glistening Soyuz rocket, waiting to climb inside. It was a gloriously clear winter’s day. Looking out over the sprawling Baikonur Cosmodrome and the vast expanse of grassland that was the Kazakh Steppe, my senses were in overdrive absorbing the last sights, smells and sounds of planet Earth before I left for six months.

As I climbed aboard our tiny capsule, situated within the nose-fairing of the rocket, the vehicle felt completely alive beneath me. Cryogenic fuel was continuously boiling off, covering the base of the rocket in an eerie white fog. This sub-zero propellant caused a layer of thin ice to cover the lower two-thirds of the rocket, transforming the usual orange-and-green livery of the Soyuz into a dazzling white in the afternoon sunshine. We had enjoyed a close-up view of the rocket as we took the lift-ride up to our capsule. With it fully fuelled with 300 tonnes of liquid oxygen and kerosene, hissing and steaming within its metal support structure that held it in place prior to ignition, you get a real sense of the incredible engineering it takes to escape the force of Earth’s gravity. I’ve strapped into many aircraft in my career, but I’m certain nothing will ever come close to the exhilaration of climbing aboard a rocket prior to launch. I didn’t feel nervous; quite the opposite. I had waited a long time for this moment and, despite trying to maintain a calm, professional focus, I was only too aware of a boyish excitement building deep within me.

We always climb into the capsule in a specific order. The first one in is the left-seater (Tim Kopra in our case), then the right-seater (myself), then finally the Soyuz commander (Yuri Malenchenko). First, we had to enter the crammed habitation module through a horizontal hatch and then wiggle our way, feet first, down through a vertical hatch to enter the descent module. There’s no ladder, but there are footholds that help.

We had to be very careful squeezing past the vertical hatch as it contained the antenna, which would be needed six months later to transmit our location to the search-and-rescue crews after landing. It was a real squeeze getting into the seat. Unlike the Soyuz simulator back in Star City, Russia, where we had trained, the spacecraft was packed to full capacity with cargo. Initially I dropped down into the commander’s seat and then cautiously shifted across, feet first, into my right-hand seat. Everything had to be done very slowly and carefully. This was not the time to tear my spacesuit or cause damage to the spacecraft. I thought of all the times I’d been caving, during my training, and was grateful for having had some experience of working in extremely confined spaces.

As soon as I was in my seat, there were two electrical cables and two hoses that had to be connected to the Sokol spacesuit. The electrical cables were for my communications headset and medical harness, which I had donned earlier. All crew wear a medical harness next to their chest, which measures heart rate and breathing rate, with the data being transmitted back to our flight surgeons. The two hoses were for air (for cooling and ventilation) and 100 per cent oxygen (used only in the case of an emergency depressurisation). Having made these connections, the next steps were to connect my knee braces, which would prevent injury to my legs during any high g-loading that might occur during launch, and to secure my five-point harness. There was just enough room for one ground-crew member to help me strap in and hand me my checklists.


On Sale
Oct 24, 2017
Page Count
272 pages

Tim Peake

About the Author

Tim Peake is a European Space Agency astronaut. He finished his 186-day mission on the International Space Station in June 2016. In addition to his illustrious career as an astronaut, Tim served as an officer in the British Army, and has logged more than 3,000 flight hours on over 30 different types of aircraft. He enjoys skiiing, scuba diving, cross-country running, climbing, mountaineering, and completed the London Marathon in 2006 (before he completed it again while in space). He has two sons.

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