Professional astronauts are still sufficiently rare that they each deserve an autobiography; this is British-born astronaut Tim Peake’s contribution to the archives. For those not familiar with the UK-based media, Tim is its most visible and engaging manifestation of space exploration since Helen Sharman became the first woman to visit the Mir space station in 1991.
In fact, since the UK does not have an astronaut corps, Tim Peake is a European Space Agency astronaut, but that does nothing to diminish his status in the eyes of the British public. His 18-year background in the British Army, which included a command in Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ and deployments in Bosnia and Afghanistan, simply adds to this credibility. For the space aware, his main achievement must be his 186-day Principia mission to the International Space Station in 2015/16, but he has stated in several interviews that he would not say no to a Moon mission, so it seems he’s not ready to retire yet!
The cover of the book includes four words intended to sum up Peake’s life: soldier, pilot, parent, astronaut. The fact that ‘parent’ is included speaks volumes on the author’s pragmatic, down-to-earth persona. He is under no illusions that his action-man career has left little time for hands-on parenting – and pays tribute to his wife and others in this regard – but he wants it to be known that this aspect of his life has not been forgotten.
The book itself is divided into three main parts, entitled Earth, Sky and Space for obvious reasons. They are bracketed by a short prologue and afterword, and there is a decent index which provides a degree of ‘random access’ to the content. There are also three colour photo inserts which add to the book’s attractiveness as a life story: in the first, we soon leave the school blazer and caravan holidays behind in favour of cadet training and the army at Sandhurst; and much of the second is devoted to his army career.
But among all the macho stuff is a telling picture of Peake in an astronaut undergarment bending to speak to his small sons: “explaining to my boys what Daddy was off to do”, as he puts it. It’s one thing to explain to a five-year-old that you’ll be away for a week at an international conference, but ‘Daddy’s going to space and may even do a spacewalk’ represents a somewhat unique parental challenge.
Peake’s own childhood was “ordinary” and many readers will associate with his description, but his fascination with aircraft (notably not spacecraft) was what shaped his career. As a result, a good two thirds of this autobiography is nothing to do with space, which is fair enough considering those four words on the cover.
He concludes with the SpaceX launch of two NASA astronauts to the ISS in May 2020 and finds himself wondering if he has “another part to play in this grand adventure”. Clearly, Tim Peake’s space career is not yet over!