Lift off!

Lecture 1 - How to survive in space


In the first of the three annual CHRISTMAS LECTURES space doctor, Kevin Fong, explores and probes second by second what it takes to ‘Lift off’ into space. With Tim Peake, Britain's first astronaut on the International Space Station, only days into his 6 month mission, he helps Kevin answer what keeps astronauts safe and on track as they're propelled into orbit.  

How do you control the energy of 300 tonnes of liquid fuel? What happens to your body if you don’t wear a spacesuit? And how do you catch up with a space station travelling at 17,500 mph to finally get inside? 

With explosive live experiments, guest astronauts in the Theatre and planetary scientist, Monica Grady, direct from the launch pad in Kazakhstan, learn this and more as we recreate those thrilling minutes of ‘Lift off’. 


Christmas Lecture
Dr Kevin Fong
London, UK
Filmed in:
The Theatre
Collections with this video:
How to survive in space

Licence: Copyright Royal Institution


I'm a doctor, and I work in some pretty extreme environments. But I also work with NASA trying to keep astronauts healthy in the most extreme environments of all. If we want to explore the cosmos, then we're going to have to learn how to survive in space.


Thank you. Sorry I'm late. I had to hitch a ride with some friends to beat the traffic. Welcome to the 2015 Christmas Lectures. This year's theme is how to keep astronauts like Tim Peake alive in space.

So let's start at the very beginning. If you're going to survive being in space, you've first got to survive getting to space. Which means surviving something that feels a bit like this.




Now that was just a balloon filled with some hydrogen and oxygen, and that's just a tiny fraction of the energy it takes to help people and objects into space. And that's the truth of this endeavour, is that the limits of all our capability. It takes the edge of everything we have in science, technology, and engineering to make that happen.

Now, when I was a doctor and I used to work with NASA, I thought there'd be plenty for me to do on my own. But in fact, you need an army of thousands, if not tens of thousands of people to protect these crews as they go about their business. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that there are people who are prepared to ride fireballs like that. And one in particular, and his name is Tim Peake, the first British astronaut for 25 years.

It's been a quarter of a century since our first British astronaut, Helen Sharman went into space. And now we have Tim aboard the space station. And he's been super busy, but he's taken the time to send us here at the Royal Institution a very special message. And we'll have a look at that now.

Hi Kevin. And hello to everybody in the audience at the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. I'm Tim Peake, and by the time you see this message, I'll be 400 kilometres above the earth's surface on the International Space Station. We've learned an awful lot about human space flight since 1961. But we still have a huge amount yet to learn. That's why I'm really excited and delighted that the topic of this year's Royal Institution Christmas Lectures is all about living and working in space.

So I just better get changed to something a bit more appropriate. So, we're right up here. This is our mission control. We're getting live information from the space station. You can see some very beautiful pictures there. Who saw Tim Peake's launch? I watched it. I try to go to a launch whenever I can. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to Tim's launch because I was here preparing for these lectures. So I had to send someone in my stead. And that was possibly the only person on the planet who is more excited than me about launching things into space. And that is planetary scientist Professor Monica Grady.

Hi Kevin. Hi people back at the Royal Institution Lecture Theatre. It's coming. Here it is. You can see it. Here it is! It's huge! It's the rocket, the Soyuz rocket that Tim Peake's going to get into. We're here in Baikonur, a really, really historic place. It's the place where Yuri Gagarin set off from, the first man in space.

The boosters are just going past now. We've got the bit where all the fuel tanks are. And then the little pod capsule where the astronauts will be. Travels a lot faster than I thought it was going to be. Yeah, sorry, I know Alex is filming me, but I'm going to take a picture as well. Because I want to record this.

Kevin I'm really, really sorry you can't be here. Honest. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and share this amazing, exciting atmosphere with you, because it's a historic moment. So, I guess I'll sign off, and see you then. Bye.


So she's very excitable, that Professor Grady, isn't she? But she's got a right to be excited. It is exciting. But it's also very, very lethal. Let's help explain why. I'm going to need at least two volunteers here. OK, let's go. Up here. Let's have you. And how about you? Here. OK. Come down and stand here.


All right, now stand here and face the crowd. Now, what's your name?






Fred and?


Fred and Adam. Brilliant. Fred and Adam, I'm going to turn you into rocket launchers. And I know you don't immediately believe me, but I really am. So we're going to stand behind our rockets, which look suspiciously like sandbags. Fred, if you stand here behind this one. Adam, if you stand here. OK. So, first of all, prepare your rocket launcher. Your right hand like this. Good. OK. Now what I want you to do when I say go, is to chuck this bag as far across there as you can. Try not to hit the front row over there or the camera man. All right? Ready Adam? So we're going to count you in. Everyone? Three, two, one, go! OK. It's a pretty heavy bag, isn't it? OK. Fred, let's see if you can get it a bit further. Ready? Yours is a bit lighter, actually. Three, two, one, go! Very, very impressive.


Now look, I told you I'd turn you into rocket launchers. And you may have expected those to go into orbit. They were trying to go into orbit. Everything you throw, it turns out, wants to go into an orbit. It's just that the Earth gets in the way. Now, when you threw your bag, Adam, it came and it landed here. Fred, when you threw yours a little bit harder, shallower arc, further, and landed here. They would have gone in orbit around the centre of mass of the Earth. But the Earth just got in the way. And this is something that someone realised a long time ago. Fred, Adam, thank you so much for your help. Why don't you go back to your seats.


So what scientists realised more than 300 years ago, and one scientist in particular, was that if you could throw something hard enough, it would travel in a long enough and shallow enough arc, that it would fall and never again hit the planet. And it would fall forever around the Earth. And that's what an orbit is. If you take something instead of your arm, if you take a cannon, as we have in this diagram here, you can imagine that might be an Adam's throw. That might be a Fred's throw. And that is a proper rocket launcher getting you all the way around the Earth and into orbit.

And it's incredible, I think to me, that more than three centuries ago, a scientist could have had the kernel of thought that would get people and objects into space so many, many centuries later. That scientist, of course, was Sir Isaac Newton. And we know what he thought, because he wrote that stuff down in a book. Possibly the most important, or at least one of the most important books, in the history of science. And that book was called "Principia."

And "Principia" with no coincidence, is the name of Tim's mission. This is the patch he wears on him at all times during this mission. And it's named after that very important book. And we here at the Royal Institution are extraordinarily lucky. Because we have one of the very early editions of that book. And to help me show it to you, I'd like to introduce our curator Charlotte.


Now Charlotte, this is, how old, this book?


It comes back to 1713. And this is "Principia." It's a second edition?

Second edition.

Of that textbook. So this is Newton laying down his thoughts about how people and objects in the world behave and the laws of motion. And, if you just come in here, Phil, and take a look at this. This is a page in that book. I have to wash my hands before I touch it. Otherwise, I'll damage it. May I take it?


It is very beautiful. We're very privileged to have it. And if you can see there, it is written in a language other than English. This is Latin, as all academic texts at the time were written. And I don't speak any Latin. But I am reliably informed that this page is the three laws of motion. And if you take your eyes down here to Lex three, or Lex Tre, that is Newton's third law of motion. And I know, because you all pay attention at school, that you know Newton's third law of motion is, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

OK. So I've always, always wanted to do that. That's possibly the only circumstance in which it is acceptable to use fire extinguishers in that way. Don't do that. Really don't. So, Newton told us over 300 years ago that what we need to do if we want to go into space is, one, throw something really, really hard. And two, throw something that way, so you can propel your vehicle and your crew in that direction.

And the question here is, what is it that you throw? And the answer is fuel out of a rocket. And rocket fuel is extraordinarily dangerous. But we've managed to get some. This is rocket fuel. This is real rocket fuel. And it's pretty explosive. Have a quick smell of that. Rocket fuel. Rocket fuel. Have a smell. OK. So very, very dangerous. Rocket fuel. So this stuff, long chains of carbon, atoms, and hydrogen joined together. And the energy between those bonds, you let go-- oh yes-- before you make it become the stuff that sends people and objects into space.

Rocket fuel is the sort of stuff that, you know, if you're around when it goes wrong, you tend to not be around for much longer. So-- you all right? Ready? Here we go. Ooh. Better stamp that one out. OK, OK, OK. We'll go again. We'll go again. We'll go again. We'll go again. OK, OK, OK. OK. All right.

So, of course, I was happy to do that, because of course, this stuff is engineered to be safe under these circumstances. That's what you want out of your rocket fuel. That's a very vital part of Tim's survival in space. This is what you want rocket fuel to do. You want it to be safe on the pads under these conditions before you light it and let it be everything it can be before you let it liberate all of its energy. And it is engineered very specifically to do that.

What they do is they take kerosene and they refine it very carefully. They take out some of the lighter fractions, some of the shorter chain molecules. So it's not so volatile. So it means that I can't get it going like that. Now, the question is, what can I do to make that be everything it can be and release its chemical potential? And I am not going to try and light rocket fuel here. Don't ever do this, by the way, with any, any, any fuel that you might find around you, by the way, in the house. Petrol, chip fat. It will ruin your entire day.

We're going to do this demonstration with a fuel that's slightly more gentle, and one that you're more familiar with. And that is, the great British biscuit. Now, you use this as fuel, and you use it to power yourselves. I'm going to use it to show you that if you get the right conditions, you can get quite boring things to release a fair amount of energy. Now why couldn't I get that rocket fuel going? Well it's because I was probably missing the vital elements of the fire triangle. Now you need some fuel. I've got some fuel. And I did have some oxygen in the air around me. But I didn't have enough heat. So you need a fuel, you need fuel. You need heat, and you need oxygen. And then you can get the stuff going.

So, I've got my fuel, a bit of oxygen, I've got my heat here. I'll get these going. Ooh, I should put some goggles on, shouldn't I, really? You never know. OK, here we go. So heat, oxygen, fuel. Very disappointing. And you're probably sitting there thinking, well, I knew that. I knew that the biscuits weren't going to do anything exciting. Because biscuits aren't very exciting. But that's the thing. I had fuel. And I had heat. And I had some oxygen. There's 21% oxygen in the air that we breathe. But that's not enough oxygen. To get this to be everything it can be, I need enough oxygen to soak these biscuits. I need to literally soak these biscuits in oxygen. And I can only do that if I have some liquid oxygen.

Now, here's the problem with that. It's quite hard to make liquid oxygen. We've got a set up here that's going to do that, and Andy's going to help me with it. This is oxygen in a cylinder. Of a type that I use every day in my hospital. It's compressed about 200 times the pressure that you have here in this room now. And so there is a good couple of thousand litres of oxygen in that. Now oxygen is running through this tube right now as a gas.

The next thing is, it runs into this copper pipe, which is very good at conducting things. And, to get something to become a liquid when it's as a gas, you have to get it below its boiling point. And this is the problem. The boiling point of oxygen is minus 183 degrees Celsius. So to get it to turn into a liquid from a gas, I have to get it colder than minus 183 degrees Celsius. And for that I need to use what is probably Andy's and the Royal Institution's favourite substance ever, liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is at minus 196 degrees Celsius.

And so as the oxygen passes through that copper tube as a gas, the liquid nitrogen draws the energy out of the gas. It turns it into a liquid. And I can collect liquid oxygen in this test tube. And that's what's happening now. Now this is a very beautiful moment for me, because I use oxygen in hospitals every day. But I never really see it because it's invisible. I've been told in textbooks that it has this beautiful blue tinge. And we're going to try and see that now. And it's boiling away. It's boiling away because it's 200 degrees above its boiling point here. And this is what happens if you have some heat, have some fuel, and have some liquid oxygen.

And that is how you get rocket fuel to be rocket fuel. Now, that looked like it wanted to go somewhere. And that's a rocket full of biscuits. And I can tell you something. Tim's rocket wasn't full of biscuits. Tim's rocket was full of RP1 rocket fuel, liquid oxygen, and enough power to light it. And that's the problem. Someone has to control that. Someone has to make sure that those substances combine precisely at the right time and precisely in the right amounts, in precisely the right way to propel you and your crew into space instead of tearing your vehicle and your crew apart.

Now, let's go back to the hours before Tim's launch and see how Monica's getting on.

Hi Kevin. Hi kids. It's an hour to launch. And I'm here at the viewing area, about two kilometres away from the rocket, which you can see on the horizon. But here, we're waiting. The place is going to be crawling with engineers and technicians making those last vital checks before they light the blue touch paper and send up this rocket with its highly corrosive and very, very explosive fuel. And it will be a big blast.

Now can you see? There's a little white pointy thing on the top of the rocket. Just underneath that is the capsule where Tim and Tim and Yuri will be sitting. So it's about an hour to go. We're nearly there. Really exciting. I just can't wait.


So let's relive that hour before launch. Let's take ourselves to our mission clock. And let's get it going. 60 minutes before launch. And everyone who has no business being on that tower is getting out of there. The rocket is live, and the rocket is dangerous. I want to say, anyone who doesn't have any business being there, I mean, anyone who's not riding that rocket into space.

Let's go forwards now to 30 minutes before. At 30 minutes, they start to arm the launch escape rocket. That you can see, that white pointy thing that Monica talked about on the top. If this goes wrong, if the rocket does explode, the only way to outrun the ensuing fireball is with another rocket. That solid rocket will light, carry the capsule up to 10,000 feet, pop a parachute, and dump them somewhere in Kazakhstan. It doesn't matter where. Anywhere away from that fireball.

We're forwards again now. We're going to 10 minutes, and at 10 minutes, they arm the flight recorders. They record the information. If there's an accident, there may be no one around to tell them what happened. They need to find that information.

And now, we're at five. In five minutes, the astronauts are closing their visors. They're shutting themselves away from the atmosphere of this planet, preparing themselves for the place they're going to which will not support human life even for a few seconds.

And now we're forwards to just a minute and a half before launch. And what is Tim thinking? Well, here's a video to tell you what he thought he was going to feel like on that pad.

In the final seconds just before countdown, I think rather than thinking about anything, I'll actually just be experiencing it. Because by that stage, the rockets are already firing. It's being held to the ground. And you're just waiting for that liftoff. But you're experiencing sounds, vibration, and really, the excitement of the launch that's about to come.


So that's not false bravado from Tim. He has no option but to experience this launch. Because it's kind of out of his hands. This thing is bigger than him. It's bigger than his crew. It's bigger than the rocket. This is the army of tens of thousands of people who designed, built, and operated this rocket. And it has to work to keep him safe. Let's go see Monica.

Really excited. We can't hear a countdown yet. I've got my phone out. I'm taking a picture too.


You see the [INAUDIBLE] gone down? The noise is starting.

Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Oh wow! Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! Wow! Wow! Bye bye Tim! Bye bye Tim! Wow. I can only barely hear the thunder now. Yes, oh right. And there are the boosters coming off now. You can see the smoke in the sky from the boosters. You can see the trail in the sky. The Soyuz rocket went straight up, vertically up. And then just about where that puff of steamy smoky stuff is, it changed direction. It moved off over to the east. Now it just looks like an ordinary airplane trail on the sky. It was just amazing. And just to see it going, and it's like, I'm so happy. It's got off safely. It's fantastic.


Now let's stop the mission clock. That rocket is starting to tilt over and head east? Why? Why is it going east? Well to help explain, I'm going to need a volunteer. How about you? Yeah, OK, let's have you. Brilliant.


And what's your name.


Mia. Mia, OK. Mia, I'm going to turn you into our launch controller. Baikonur here. Come stand in your station. This is our very expensive launch station here. And here at the RI, we have our own international space station. It took less than 15 years and $150 billion to build. If you'll take yourself into orbit, Cosmonaut John.

And so Mia, we're going to launch ourselves into that dish. Now, these rockets have all the energy they need to get into that space station, OK? All we've got to do is launch, OK? Now, when I count you in, you're going to hit this lever across that way, OK? Give it a good whack, ready? Three, two, one, go!

Oh dear. Now, that's nothing-- you didn't do anything wrong there. Your launch was perfect. And there's nothing wrong with the rocket either. They have enough energy to get to the space station. But only if they borrow a little bit of extra energy from somewhere else. And that energy is borrowed from the rotation of the planets.

Now this is our lovely map of the Earth on top of this launch station. At the poles, when the Earth is turning, the Earth isn't turning very quickly. As you get down towards the equator, the speed of rotation is going pretty fast. It's going about 1,000 miles an hour. And if you launch towards the east as the Earth rotates from west to east, you can get some of that energy.

So, if you launch from the pole, you can't borrow much energy because the Earth is not spinning very much. If you're silly enough to try and launch against the direction of rotation of the Earth, then you're going to be in even worse shape. The best place to launch from is where this red rocket is. Launching with the rotation of the Earth towards the east. What we were missing before was the spin of the Earth.

So this time, I'm going to spin the Earth up. And I'm going to help you launch it. And there's going to be no countdown, because they don't really do countdowns in Russia. OK, ready? Here we go. Yeah! All right! Well done. Thank you Mia.


And it is incredible to watch that go as it launches out there towards the east. Impossible to imagine-- we don't need to imagine. We can ask someone who's actually done it. It's my great pleasure to introduce a veteran astronaut who's flown in space twice. He spent more than 211 days in space in total. He's been aboard the International Space Station. He is a doctor, but he's also a NASA astronaut. It's my great pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague Dr. Mike Barrett.


Now, hang on Kevin. Actually, I need to fire up this i-thingy. Because we've actually just had a tweet from the space station from astronaut Tim Peake. And he wanted to wish Dr. Fong good luck with the Christmas Lectures and he's really excited to be part of it from space.


So a tweet from space.

That is my first ever tweet from the space station I think. Wow. Thank you Tim. [INAUDIBLE]


I don't know if I'm more shocked to get a tweet from Tim, or to know that astronauts get onto Twitter in the space station. But never mind. You've done that for real.

I have.

You've launched like that. Just tell me what it's like as it tips over and starts heading out east.

Well, launching on a rocket is a great experience I hope all of you get to experience one day. It's very possible. The Soyuz is very different from the space shuttle. The Soyuz uses these very well behaved liquid boosters. And after the engines light, you sit there, you vibrate, you shake, you hear the roar of the engines below you. But actually, when you lift off, it's very gentle. And in fact, I wasn't even aware that we had lifted off until I looked at my clock start to count up from zero to tell me that we have left the Earth.

Is that true that you had to watch the mission clock to know that liftoff had happened?

For those first few seconds, that's absolutely right. But then you start to build G-forces. Because when you think about it, you have to go from zero to 17,500 miles an hour in about nine minutes or so. So you have to start accelerating. And after a while, you're going at more than three Gs, which means the forces through your chest make you weigh three times your body weight.

And that's all the acceleration pushing through--


--as you launch. And so, you end up weighing three times as much?

That's right. And fortunately, we're strapped into our seats. So we don't have to feel that too much. But if you lift your arm, all of a sudden, it weighs three times more than you thought. And it feels pretty weird. But for me, it was very special. Because about 2 and 1/2 minutes into flight, the outer shroud over the spacecraft blows away. And sunlight streams into the capsule. And I couldn't lift myself, but I lifted my arm. And I had a little wrist mirror. And we were already 100 kilometres high, and I saw the clouds way below me getting smaller. So that's when you really know you've left the planet.

Wow. It sounds absolutely incredible. If it's all right, we'll keep you here, Mike. We'll see you later, but for now, astronaut Mike Barrett.


So as we relive this mission, the crew is still racing away from the Earth. And they're leaving behind everything that they take for granted in the way of natural life support here on this planet. And that is a perilously thin layer. And over here, we're going to look at a good illustration of just how thin that layer is. Now Allouette is an artist-- hi Allouette-- from the Royal College of Art. And to give you an impression of just how thin the layer of atmosphere is that supports all life on Earth, have a look at this. This is a football that's 22 centimetres across?

Yeah, I think. Well, I don't know. It's a normal football size.

So I think that's a regulation size. And I asked you to paint a layer of paint on top. And this beautiful map of the world you're finishing off here to show the atmosphere as it would be. So how thick is your paint there?

Well, probably less than a millimetre. It's very thin.

And so, if the Earth were a football, and if you painted it and you painted on the atmosphere, the atmosphere in which we live, on which we depend, would be less than a millimetre thick. It's not a biosphere. We think of it as a biosphere. But it is, in fact, a bio-film. It's smeared across the surface of the planet the way that Allouette has smeared this paint across the surface of this football. That is what you depend upon. Allouette, thank you so much. It's very beautiful. Can't wait to see it finished. Thank you.


And when you're on your way into space, life gets hard very, very quickly. It gets hard even before you've left that really thin layer. I know because I know someone who's been right up to the edge of it. I am going to introduce you to the man who has survived for the lowest level of oxygen in his blood stream of any human being in the world. I'd like to introduce you to my good colleague and friend intensive care doctor, Everest summiteer, Dr. Dan Martin.


Now Dan is a doctor. But in 2007, he climbed to the summit of Everest and did some crazy experiments. You are dressed as you were when you did that.

This is the suit I wore to the summit of Everest in 2007, down suit to keep us warm up there on the summit.

And this is your oxygen as well?

Yeah, an oxygen bottle you'd put in your backpack, and an oxygen mask to breathe there, because the air is just so thin at the summit.

And you did a crazy experiment up there. What did you do?

Well, we wanted to know how much oxygen there was in our blood when we were close to the summit of Everest. So we took blood samples from each other near to the summit, sent them to an analyzer, and worked out just how little oxygen there was in our blood.

And in hospital, we measure the amount of oxygen in your blood stream to see how well you are. Now, for people in this lecture theatre now, if we measure the pressure of oxygen in their arteries-- so that's how we measure the amount of oxygen in your arteries-- what would we find? That the average pressure of people's-- oxygen in people's arteries here would be about 10 to 12?

Somewhere between 10 and 12.

So for normal healthy people, let's say it's 10 kilo pascals of pressure. At the point at which someone's sick enough on the ward to start calling Dan or me down from intensive care to scoop them up and stick them on a life support machine and rescue them by giving them more oxygen and put them on a ventilator, you're up how much?

Six is where I'd really get worried then.

About six we're super worried and you're calling the intensive care doctor. What was the level of oxygen in your bloodstream at the summit of Everest?

2 and 1/2.


And that's a crazy low value.

Really low.

And it is bizarre that you're still alive, frankly.

Thank you.

It is the lowest recorded oxygen level in any human being?

I believe so. We've never seen any lower. So that record remains, I think. It's pretty uncomfortable up there, and there's a huge amount of time you have to spend adapting to it.

All right, well look, I can see you're getting quite warm in your down suit. It's good for Everest. It's not good for the Royal Institution. Thank you very much Dr. Dan Martin. Thank you.


That's a crazy story from Dan. And it's amazing that he's alive at all. But to show you just how bad it is as you go out through the atmosphere, let's go back to our mission clock. They're moving now, going beyond the summit of Everest, at around nine kilometres. They've got up to 18 kilometres, 18,000 metres, 63,000 feet. And that's an important boundary. And to show you why, I'm going to need a couple of volunteers. So let's have two volunteers. All right, I'm going to have to try and go up here for this one. OK. Stand up for me. Go on. Yeah. Why don't we have you? Why don't you go down there, and I'll go up here this time. Just stand there. And, why don't you stand up for me? Yeah, OK. Why don't you come down as well?


And what's your name?


Toby and?


Alexandra. I've got something else in mind for you. I think we're going to have to take you away right now. So we'll see you later, I think. Bye bye. Don't worry. She'll be all right.


Now how are you feeling?


Good, good. You sure?


OK. I think you should have a seat. Let's put this in your mouth, shall we? OK, so open your mouth, stick this under your tongue. Keep it there. All right. We'll come back to him later. Don't worry. All right. OK.

So, one of the things Dan Martin told me about climbing Everest also was it's not very pleasant. It's pretty cold. And you can't make a decent cup of tea. You can't make a decent cup of tea on Everest because as you rise up through the atmosphere, the boiling point of water also falls. Because the pressure falls. At the summit of Everest, the pressure has fallen so much that the boiling point of water is only 72 degrees Celsius.

Now, as you keep going into the atmosphere, that keeps happening, until you reach a point of 63,000 feet, 18,000 metres, where the astronauts are now in their mission, where you can boil water at 37 degrees Celsius.

And Toby, you all right? And your temperature is 36.8 degrees Celsius. Yeah, so close enough. 37. So you can reach a point in the atmosphere where Toby can boil himself. That sounds pretty unpleasant, doesn't it? So you're going to come help me. Now, we're not going to boil you, Toby. If you get to a point where your own core body temperature can boil you, that's bad news.

Now, we won't boil you, but we'll make a Toby model, OK? So here's my Toby model. It's not a very good model, I have to say. So this is my Toby head. All right? That looks a bit like you. And we'll have a-- we'll have a marshmallow for your head, because that simulates your soft tissues. This balloon will be like the air in your body, perhaps the air in your lungs. So that's about where your lungs is.

OK. Here's the important bit. Here's the free water in your body. Now put your finger in that water and it's pretty cold isn't it? It's about the same temperature as your body, actually. It's 37 degrees, OK? So that would be like the spit in your mouth or the glass of water in your stomach just after you've drunk it. There is water elsewhere.

And let's just look at this last thing. This is a red glass. It's like the water that's in your bloodstream, OK? And that water has got a cover on it. Because the blood, at least, in your arteries has a cover on it. It has a muscular wall that protects it. Kind of acts like a pressure cooker. And that will stop the water from boiling a bit at least.

Now, let's line this all up for our Toby body. And let's get this going. Now, we can't send all of this into space. But we can make it think it's gone into space. And we do that by putting it inside this vacuum chamber and sucking out all the air. So this is a vacuum pump, Toby. And so, if you put your hand on that switch and I'll get everyone to give you a countdown. And we're going to send this into space by making it-- well, think it's gone into space. Three, two, one. Off we go. Come round here, Toby. Have a look at this.

So that needle is going up. So right now, we're about to get to the highest human habitations at 5,000 metres. We're at Dan Martin's altitude, 8,848 metres, the summit of Everest there. Have a look at what's happened to your head. Oh my goodness. And your lungs. They're getting bigger. And now, we're up into well above where a plane would be. Up and-- ah! That was your lungs. That's very bad. Look at your head. It's swelling. There's vapour forming in the pockets inside your head and some air expanding there. Your head really doesn't look very good at the moment, does it?

Now, that process I told you about is about to happen to that water. Just watch very carefully. The pressure's dropping. A few bubbles. Here it goes. Here it goes. That is water boiling as you go off into space. You look really unwell in there. Shall we save you? Shall we turn off that pump? OK. Off we go. I think we should try and put some pressure back into the system. Poor Toby. All right.



You almost looked better before, didn't you? Oh dear. OK. So hopefully, I can get some of you out. There's not much left, I'm afraid. This is what happens if you go into space without a space suit. Now you saw that boiling didn't you? Like as if it was in a kettle. You put your finger in that. It's still cold. So, that's because boiling is not about temperature. It's a process. It's molecules of a liquid leaving and going into the gas. That's what was happening there. But not because it was hot. Because it was such a low pressure around it. Toby, thank you so much. Don't ever, ever, ever go into space without a space suit. That's the best health advice I can give you. All right. Off you go. Thank you.


Now that was ugly wasn't it? So this, of course, is a space suit, and it's a beautiful piece of engineering. This spacesuit was designed for astronaut Helen Sharman when she went on her Juno mission 25 years ago. And I could tell you about it. But I rather think that the best person to tell you about Helen Sharman's spacesuit is Dr. Helen Sharman, our first British astronaut. Dr. Sharman.


Helen, it's such a great honour to meet you. This is a very precious item. It's usually stored behind glass at the National Science-- National Space Centre in Leicester. It hasn't been into space, has it?

No. This is a replica. The real space suit that I actually wore in space is in the science museum in London. But this is very similar. I would say it's identical as far as I can see, down to the mirror on the left hand side. We're not allowed to touch it.

We're not allowed to touch it, but--

A real-- a real, live astronaut.

So, you have found a slightly less precious space suit. So we can talk about this now. Tell me about this suit. So tell me, Helen, about this suit.

So this is-- is one we can really touch, can't we? So, yeah, very similar. So this would have been, I assume, made for somebody to do their training in. It feels quite warm, doesn't it? Yeah, you're getting quite warm in there. So normally, you would wear your suit. And if you're actually-- in sitting inside your spacecraft, or indeed, if you're walking to the spacecraft, because it gets very hot. Because how can you lose any heat inside this spacesuit? There's a little bit that you might be able to lose heat from your face. It gets hot.

So you got a great big pipe here. Now this plugs into a ventilator unit, and the air from the spacecraft or from the air gets pulled through the space suit, and there are pipes running all the way through it, right down to your feet. They come up to your-- or to just underneath your face here. And they run right down into your gloves. And that tends to keep you cooler inside. So I really pity you just now, because you're actually getting really very hot inside, aren't you?

So Alexandra, how does it feel being in there?

Very heavy.

Very heavy. And Helen, what is this thing here?

So this is a pressure regulator valve. So if you need to inflate the suit while you're in space-- let's say that, unfortunately, the air has leaked out of the spacecraft. You close your helmet. The oxygen supply comes in through this smaller pipe here on the left. And this, it sort of keeps the space suit inflated. And this pressure valve here regulates the pressure inside.

Now, what you really want is for the suit be inflated at a pressure of about 0.4 of an atmosphere. Oxygen is in here, not air. So 0.4 of an atmosphere, but it's full of oxygen. It's fine. But it inflates the spacesuit. So although it is strong on the outside, it becomes really stiff. Really stiff. So it's hard to move. That's fine if you're just sitting in your-- your seat, like this. If you do need to get out and do some manoeuvres, it's so difficult to move, you can't. And you would use up so much energy.

So what you can do is you can use this valve here to decrease the pressure. You look at the manometer on your wrist here. And then that will show that you've decreased the pressure from 0.4 of an atmosphere to 0.26 of an atmosphere. Very, very low pressure. So the suit deflates a little bit. Still got a bit of oxygen in. So it's enough to breathe. It supports life. But that pressure's low. So low that you'd get the bends if you'd stayed in that for very long.

So you can do that for about a quarter of an hour while you do whatever it is you need to do. And then you sit back down in your seat, increase the pressure again. You can do that repeatedly. But you can't keep it at 0.26 of atmosphere for very long.

That weighs 10 kilogrammes on Earth, although of course it weighs nothing if you're orbiting the Earth. This is your mini spacecraft really, isn't it? It's like having a spacecraft inside a spacecraft. So it really has to support your life for as long as you need to get back to Earth.

So it looks like, Alexandra, you're not really enjoying being inside that space suit. So I think I'm going to send you away to get in something a bit more comfortable. This is the last layer of defence astronauts have against the hostility of the environment around them. But for now, Alexandra, I think-- it is a bit smelly, that suit. Is that how it came? Here, all right, your suit doesn't smell like that, I hope, Helen?

Well, I don't know. I haven't been that close.

All right. Alexandra, thank you so much. And Helen, thank you.


So that's incredible. So we've seen our spacesuit. And the crew are still on mission. They're still racing away from the Earth. They're still in the atmosphere. They're travelling at many times the speed of sound. And the atmosphere is still thick enough to press on that vehicle to cause all sorts of shearing forces trying to rip the vehicle apart.

And now, there is so much energy around, that threat comes from some unexpected sources. It's not just heat, it's not just light. It's vibration and it's sound. Now you don't think of those things as being destructive forces. But they are. And to show you, I need a volunteer, preferably someone who's really, really good at singing.


That sorts people out. Are you really good at singing? OK. Well let's have a go. You-- come on, let's-- that's taking you down. Brilliant. Fantastic.


Brilliant. OK. Come. Come just stand here. And what's your name?


Aoife. Aoife, we are going to try and use your voice to break this glass here, all right? So over here, we have a microphone, OK? And to help you with that note, we've got the same note playing in these ear phones. So that should be about the right note so that that note corresponds with the natural frequency of this glass. So it goes into resonance.

So you want to get the molecules of the glass vibrating like sound energy in the voice of Aoife here to show you just how destructive sound can be. Now, Aoife, this is really hard to do. I'll tell you now, I had to go. But I'm a rubbish singer. So I'm expecting greatness from you. OK. So, ready, steady, go.


Oh, close. Cause, Aoife, good try. Good try.


Aoife, there is someone who can do this. And that is the amazing Lucy Haken who is my producer, who tells me she can, which is why we're here. So ladies and gentleman, Lucy Haken.


I would protect your ears, here, not because Lucy is terrible at singing, but because it's just very, very loud. OK, let's have a go.

Hoo. Hoo.



Aoife, she broke the glass. But you're a much better singer. Thank you so much.


And so, right now, they're still moving on with their mission. They're getting up to the point where booster sep is about to occur. At 1 minute 58 seconds, the booster separates. And they still have to pull off one more trick to get into space. And to explain what trick that is, I'm going to need one volunteer. Hmm. All right, let's go up here this time. How about you? Right at the back there. Yeah, yeah. Let's bring you down.


And I need one more volunteer. Someone who's travelled at 25 times the speed of sound. Which probably means you, Mike, doesn't it? All right, Mike Barrett.


Now, what's your-- what's your name?


John. John, Mike, I'm going to turn you into rocket engines here. This is our rockets. These bags are your propellant, and you know, because Isaac Newton told us, that if you throw your propellant out the back, your rocket will go in that direction. Now if you get as far as this line, you have got to the space station, OK? That's what we've got to do by throwing those bags out that way, OK?

So I'm going to load you on board now. And Mike, if you would board the bottom there, so you're at the top of the rocket, and Mike's at the bottom. All right. And try not to break the astronaut as you throw them, OK? Because that's super embarrassing when we return him to NASA. All right? All right.

You got my back, John.

Everyone three, two, one, go!

Oh so close! Aw. What a disaster. You didn't get to the space station. You're floating in space.


OK. So let's try that again. But let's try that the way that Tim's rocket and the Soyuz dealt with it. This time, we're going to do a staging. So, Mike is going to be the first stage, and you're going to be the second stage, OK? So when I say three, two, one, first stage, Mike's going to chuck all his fuel out. When I say second stage, go, you chuck your fuel out, OK? But that won't be until you've separated from his stage, all right? So, you're going to get rid of the dead weight that is astronaut Mike Barrett. After he's got rid of his fuel. OK, you got that? So, three, two, one, first stage! And it separates. Go! Second stage.


High five.

Congratulations. You made it [INAUDIBLE]

And that's how you get yourself into space. You get rid of that stage. Once it's got rid of its fuel, you get rid of the lower stage, even if Mike's aboard it. Well done. Thanks.


And now, over to Tim.

I'm really looking forward to experiencing the stage separations. You go from high G to low G. You get kind of a tumbling sensation. And also when the fairing is jettisoned, once you've left most of Earth's atmosphere, that's when you first get to see the sun. Or if it's at night, then you get to see planet Earth.

And so you've both been there. How does that feel? That moment when you're getting out there into space?

The actual moment that Mike explained about, when you suddenly go from about three G to zero G, I was-- it was a delightful feeling, because the space suit is so hot. But at-- for the first time, the ventilation can actually go behind your back. Because you're floating sort of between the seats and your straps. So the ventilation can go and dry some of the sweat off. And then when you unstrap, and you just float out, isn't that just a wonderful free feeling?

It's liberating. Absolutely.

And it's not just that freedom of floating. And then, and of course it never stops, does it? It just keeps on going and going. And you forget what it's like. I mean, right now, I can actually feel the seat beneath me. And I'm sure, if you actually think about it, you can actually feel the floor beneath your feet. You forget what it's like to stand up, or to sit down.

And the best memory for you of that, Mike?

Well fortunately, the Soyuz is very small, so you don't float very far. But the first place you float to is the window. And I think looking out the window to the Earth was absolutely my best memory. But also, just to know that you've made it through [INAUDIBLE] and you're in orbit. It's just a great feeling because everything went right.

Fantastic. Well stay here guys. We're not finished yet. But at least we are in orbit. But they're just not quite in the right orbit yet. The ISS is up above them, circling the Earth 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. Travelling at 17,500 miles an hour. And Soyuz still has to climb to get there. And the question is, how are they going to do that? And that's much trickier than you think. And to show you that, I'm going to need the help of a volunteer. OK, so. Let's have you. Let's come down.


Now, what's your name?


[INAUDIBLE]. OK. So this is our auto rendezvous demonstrator, all right? And here's how it works. You pull that trigger. And these cars are going around. Now, one's going faster around the earth than the other one. Your speed and where you are in your orbit are inseparable. So when you're close to the Earth, you're going around the Earth faster. When you're high in an orbit, like the ISS is, you're going slower.

So if we let this string out here, you can go higher, but you're travelling slower again. So let's see if you can get yourself to dock with the ISS, all right? So if you turn it to the right, it goes out. To the left, it goes down. All right? It's my favourite Christmas toy, that one. All right. So pull the trigger, and just have a go.

Now this what it's like. This is why almost all mechanics are so difficult. Because your speed is not independent of your position. If you're higher in orbit, you're close to the space station, but you're travelling more slowly. So you have to time your run. If you want to catch up with it now, you have to drop down to a lower orbit. That's good. And you're going to catch up. And now, you're going to have to time your run so that you get close to the ISS. Now let's try and get up close, because truthfully-- oh here we go. Oh!


I have never seen anyone do that first time. Are you-- are you an astronaut, by chance?

No, not really.

Well, that was very impressive, [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you so much. Take your seat.


So that's how that works. That's how you move-- you manoeuvre yourself around in space with that sort of reaction. And that's where we've got to in Tim's mission. We'll go forwards now to six hours and 30 minutes after Tim has launched. And he's now approaching space station. We're going to see some film of that as they approach up here on the screen. And they're pulling close. And that is Tim's vehicle approaching. And of course there are two people in our audience who know exactly what that feels like. So I'm going to ask you to welcome back astronauts Helen Sharman and Mike Barrett. Thank you.


So this is six hours 30 minutes. They're approaching the space station. Do you guys remember this from your missions?

I remember. You can't forget it, can you? Because it's actually-- nobody celebrates-- nobody in Star City celebrates the launch. You celebrate the docking, because that's when you know that you're there safely. And we were actually 200 kilometres away when we knew that we weren't going to make it automatically, and we took over manual. But you had a different experience, didn't you?

So we were about a little more than 100 metres out. And then we had a failure of one of the sensors on the engines. And the guidance computer didn't like it. So it said switch over to manual and fly that in.

And Tim's docking actually turned out to be much, much more nervy than anyone thought it was going to be. What happened there, Mike?

So it was a very similar failure. In fact, the same one that we had. But it was inside of 20 metres. So they were actually very close. And whenever you have two spacecraft very close together, you want to be sure that they're extremely tightly controlled. Well, the computer didn't like what it saw, and so it told the spacecraft to back up. And it did very quickly. In fact, if any of you watched it on TV, you'll see it beat a very hasty retreat to a little bit more than 100 metres.

And that's as close as two vehicles have ever got in that procedure.

I think that's about as close as we've come before we had a failed to dock. Now, to be sure, that we trained to do this. And Yuri Malenchenko, the commander, was absolutely trained to do these manual dockings. And the computers switched over to manual mode and allowed Yuri to fly it, which he did beautifully.

So let's go forward one more time now. Eight hours 55 minutes after Tim has left the Earth. They've docked to the space station and the final checks. And it's time to open the hatch. Now-- now, both of you know what that feels like, don't you? Let's see what Tim thought he was going to feel like.

Once we dock to the International Space Station, we've still got about two hours of leak checks to do to make sure everything is safe for us to open the hatch between the Soyuz spacecraft and the space station. What will be great is the fact that I'll be meeting Scott and Misha on board, who are already eight months into their year-long stay. I said goodbye to them in Star City, and it'll be great to see them again.

So incredible. You've both been through that. I could see Scott Kelly up there. He's a buddy of yours.

He is a good friend of mine. We flew together, actually earlier.

And you've been through that. What's it like getting aboard the space station, Mike?

Well the space station is huge. And when you compare that to the very small-- the tiny confines of the Soyuz, it's a big dramatic change. All of a sudden, you're in a massive station the size of a 747, if any of you have been on that. And so all of a sudden, you have a lot of room to manoeuvre. And after two days in a Soyuz, it was kind of nice to have the room.

Well it's fantastic to see everyone aboard the space station. Mike Barrett, Helen Sharman, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It's fantastic to see you.

Thanks so much.



And we have one final message from Tim.

That's all for now. Looking forward to talking to you again at the next Christmas Lectures. Fingers crossed. Good luck.


And that brings us to the end of the first of our lectures. The crew have survived launch. They have survived orbital rendezvous. They've survived the docking. And they're safely aboard the space station. And next time, we'll be finding out, as Tim begins his six-month expedition aboard the International Space Station, not just how to survive in space, but how to live and work there. And what you do if something goes really, really wrong. And also, even more exciting, is we'll be having the first recorded message from Tim from the ISS. But for now, I am Dr. Kevin Fong. And this has been "How to Survive in Space."



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