FIA Spacezone: Careers Day – Astronaut Tim Peake


ESA’s astronaut, Tim Peake, delivered the following keynote address to start the Careers Day organised by the UK Space Agency, in the space zone of the Farnborough International Airshow.

ESA’s astronaut, Tim Peake
“It’s great to be here in Farnborough and actually it’s great
to be in the UK as I’ve spent much of my year outside of the UK.  My dream is to go into space and it always
has been, but it’s been my passion for aviation that’s got me where I am today,
so I am delighted to be surrounded by aircraft and aviation enthusiasts.
I recently had a trip to a new dentist; he asked me my
profession, so I said I work with the European Space Agency. He jokingly said “Ahh, so you’re an astronaut then?   So I said “well actually yes, I suppose that
is my title”, and there was this awkward silence where he thought is this guy for
real, just pulling my leg or is he just mad?

It’s funny how when most people think of a profession linked
to the space industry they think of astronaut, but it’s probably the
profession within the space industry that employs the fewest people. Something
that has amazed me over the last 4 years that I’ve been involved is the sheer
breadth and diversity of the careers that are available within the space
industry.
As an astronaut I
have to be a little bit of a jack of all trades and hopefully a master of some
of them, but when you train for that role you get to meet an enormous variety
of people from different backgrounds, and that’s been a real privilege to meet
so many people in this industry from different backgrounds, all essentially
employed within the space industry. Its true to say most of these people do have
a strong academic background in STEM subjects, I certainly do believe that it’s
really  important that we do encourage our
young generation and children of all ages to really embrace these STEM
subjects.
If you just take my work place as an example, the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, a tiny fraction of the industry, you’re going to
find medical doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, linguists, IT experts, scientists
and engineers, even professional divers who work there, and the odd astronaut.

Today so much of the space sector relies upon strong
international partnerships that having the ability to speak a second language
is very important. This is something that I now have to do and I’ve definitely
found that to be one of the hardest aspects of astronaut training to date.
As well as being involved with an industry offering enormous
variety, it’s also an incredibly exciting and important time to be involved in
space. What we do in space tends to push our capabilities, our knowledge and
our technology to the absolute limits, whether its searching for dark matter or
researching new vaccines, MRSA and salmonella for example, or even
understanding climate change and searching for new energy sources. Space has also
become an integral part of our daily life, and we are ever more dependent on it
for our everyday lives.
Industry plays a major role in some of the major challenges
we face today, such as climate change, managing food, energy, water resources,
and important things such as planetary protection, from both solar radiation, and
potential asteroid impacts. That’s been a fantastic fascinating journey that I’ve
had this year in working  with NASA’s
exploration branch in finding out just what we are doing in terms of planetary
protection.
Space is also becoming ever more accessible, this year we’ve
celebrated the success of SpaceX, the first commercial company to launch cargo,
dock to the international space station and return payloads back to earth. Space
tourism is set to boom, with the onset of companies such as Virgin Galactic
offering the experience of sub orbital space travel and rapid development of
things like cubesat technology is offering fast, low cost, access to space and with
this commercial sector gaining strength, comes new and exciting career
opportunities.

The success of UK industry for the past
ten years has enjoyed incredible growth at 7.5% and the recent innovation growth
strategy report has set the challenge to grow it from the 7.5% it is today to
10%. That would return about £40bn a year to the UK economy. So these are fantastic
opportunities for our younger generations, and I’m really encouraged by the momentum
and positive direction that the UK has within its space sector.
I’ve also had the good fortune to be working with academic
institutes such as Kings College London, who are drawing in students from all
over Europe with their unique courses in space physiology and health and also extreme
physiology. And this really does highlight one of the UK strengths in space
biomedicine.
I know we’re going to be hearing a lot more today about the
many schemes that are available to encourage careers in space industry, and to
give you an idea ESA itself has a very active recruitment policy and has been
building educational outreach programme for young children working in
collaboration with ESERO in addition to offering student placements, internships,
work experience, young graduate training schemes and even post doc research
fellowships.

Now from a more personal perspective, my journey into the
space industry has been slightly unorthodox. I actually left school aged 18
with three average A-levels, in maths, physics and chemistry, and whilst I had
the opportunity to study aeronautical engineering at university, I was
determined to be an army helicopter pilot and I thought that my time would be
better spent by starting my flying career early. So I packed my bags and headed
off to the royal military academy at Sandhurst to become a military officer and
a pilot, knowing that the journey was going to take several years to achieve. It
wasn’t until many years later age 33 that I obtained my bachelors in flight
dynamics, and that was while I was also studying to be a test pilot.
Looking back now I’m absolutely certain that I made the
right choice because having a bachelors degree was very important and was
highly desirable from the ESA’s point of view during the astronaut selection, but
it was my years of operational experience, my professional qualifications, and
what many people would call ‘life skills’ that are the reason that I have this
wonderful opportunity to fly into space.
So while my journey has been slightly unorthodox, it does highlight
that anything is absolutely achievable with hard work , determination, and above
everything else, an absolute passion for what you’re doing, and I think this is
the real key message that we have to pass onto our younger generations.”
Carl Walker (ESA), Tim Peake, me
(Photo credit: ESA)

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