17 October 2016

Loughborough College space engineers have described a “truly amazing” surprise meeting with British astronaut Tim Peake.

Students studying on a unique programme established by Loughborough College in association with the National Space Academy were invited to a major event for the country’s first official astronaut – and were thrilled to be given the unexpected opportunity to meet their hero.

Major Peake had given a talk on the 186 days he spent on the International Space Station and had been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of Leicester at the National Space Centre’s Patrick Moore Planetarium when Richard Jones, Robert Forward and Tyler Laffar suddenly found themselves face to face with the astronaut.

Richard explained how it was certainly a case of good things coming to those who wait for the three space engineering students:

“There were so many people at the event and I was really excited just to get a video of Tim Peake walking past us on his way in. But the three of us decided to wait until after the talk and the ceremony, right until the end of the afternoon, on the off-chance we might see him again.

“It seemed that almost everyone had left and we were starting to accept we may have held on for nothing when suddenly there he was. Tim Peake is my inspiration, my hero and at first my mind went blank.

“But then we slowly managed to pull ourselves together and said we hoped he had had a brilliant day. He praised the wonderful hospitality he had had and the incredible support he had had from the public both while he was in space and since his return in June.”

Richard, together with fellow Loughborough College students David Thomson and Emily Bradley, took part in a historic live broadcast from the Sky News studio in March, speaking to the astronaut during his mission on the ISS as he orbited the earth.

“I told Tim Peake that it had been an honour to speak to him then and congratulated him on the mission. He thanked us all for the work we are doing on the space engineering course and for our help in inspiring the next generation.

“That was great because it is really important to me that we are ambassadors to other young people, that this pioneering programme and things like the broadcast help encourage others get involved in the space sector.

“It was strange to think the last time I spoke with him was when he was in space. It seemed we were all chatting for ages. He signed some flags we had been given at the event and was so relaxed and down to earth.

“I am only half way through my course and already I have asked him about microgravity live on air and prompted him to turn upside down as he answered me from space. Now I have actually chatted to him face to face. It all made me feel quite emotional. This is the person who made me decide I want to be an astronaut. I don’t know if I have quite got over the shock of it. We actually met Tim Peake. That is so special. It is truly amazing.”

David Thomson, who attended the Space Centre event with his fellow Loughborough College space engineering students agreed the opportunities he has had through the course have been unbelievable.

“With Tim Peake alone he got in touch with us just before he blasted off, we spoke to him while he was in space and then we are invited to hear him talk about his experiences now he is back. As if that is not enough, this week we also met astronaut Chris Hadfield. It is an incredible privilege.”

“When Tim Peake arrived at the National Space Centre he really was given a rock star welcome with hordes of young people cheering him,” said Gareth Sykes, Head of Advanced Manufacturing and Technology at Loughborough College. “His talk was exciting, inspiring and motivational and it was wonderful to be present when he received his honorary doctorate.

“There is no doubt that the level of contact our students have had with Major Peake has enhanced their sense of purpose and belief that with a lot of hard work and commitment, there is a real chance of space travel. Certainly their course and engineering offer a potential route to astronaut stardom.

“Not only were our students captivated by Tim’s account of his experiences on the international space station but a number of our tutors also found it fascinating and will be sharing that with learners who did not have the opportunity to attend.”

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