Four years of training, an exciting launch strapped to 274 tonnes of rocket fuel, docking two spacecraft while travelling at 28 800 km/h and living in one of the most inhospitable environments known. Space agencies would not consider these awe-inspiring efforts without the unique opportunity for conducting science on the microgravity laboratory that is the International Space Station.
For centuries, scientists have tinkered with variables in laboratories to understand natural phenomena. They can raise temperatures, increase pressure, adjust lighting, add water, remove oxygen and even create a vacuum. But until spaceflight, scientists could not remove the hold of gravity from their experiments for more than a few seconds at a time.
The Space Station offers scientists a fully equipped laboratory to run experiments that could never be done on Earth. From being a test subject to running intricate metal furnaces, ESA astronaut Tim Peake had a full roster of science planned for his Principia mission.
As much time as possible was spent on science during his 40 hour working week. He ran many experiments for ESA, but took part in even more from scientists all over the world. Many were continuations from previous Expeditions – the longevity of the Space Station is part of what makes it so special for scientists. Other platforms allow scientists to experiment with weightlessness but only the Station can offer continuous access to microgravity. This allows experiments to run for many months or be repeated with many test subjects.
The Station’s orbit is lower than most satellites but still above our atmosphere. Its constant presence above our planet offers a platform to test equipment and run experiments. From launching miniature satellites to testing signals received from fishing vessels, from recreating the martian atmosphere to observing our Sun, the versatile Station offers scientists from all disciplines the world over a unique place to conduct science for the benefit of all.
Click the pages to the left for the ESA experiments that Tim ran during Principia. Visit the International Space Station partner agencies for their experiments.