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A woman answered whose voice I didn’t recognise,” he
confesses. “I said, ‘Hello, is this Planet Earth?’ The woman said, ‘No, it’s not’, and hung up. That was a little embarrassing.
‘ orbit on Christmas Eve took us directly over northern Europe, making the Space Station perfectly visible from the ground, so if you were scanning the skies for Father Christmas that night you might have picked out the ISS.
“Missing Christmas with the family was going to be tough for all of us but, in my case, the fact that being in space was such an all-consuming novelty at this stage definitely helped. It also helped to know that Rebecca and the boys were spending the holiday at a big family gathering, being well looked after and having a good time.”
One of Tim’s more enjoyable duties was to send the ISS’s annual festive message to those charting its progress. He delivered it alongside his fellow Expedition 46 astronauts, Commander Scott Kelly of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra, also of NASA. Entitled Happy Holidays from the International Space Station, it can still be seen on YouTube.
Tim’s heartfelt contribution was: “Christmas is traditionally a time for friends and families and although we can’t be with our friends and families this year, we’ll be orbiting the Earth 16 times on Christmas Day and sending our good wishes to everybody back down on beautiful planet Earth.”
On Christmas Eve he made an error that caused a social media frenzy and was picked up by the media worldwide: having worked out how to telephone people from the ISS, he misdialled his sister’s number. “A woman answered whose voice I didn’t recognise,” he confesses. “I said, ‘Hello, is this Planet Earth?’ The woman said, ‘No, it’s not’, and hung up. That was a little embarrassing. I put out a tweet apologising to the woman, explaining that it was a genuine mistake and not a prank call. The tweet went viral, the media picked up on it and eventually even CNN were reporting on the astronaut who had called a wrong number from space.”
Tim also made contact with Suffolk, calling old friend Lieutenant Colonel Rob Olney of Bury St Edmunds-based 6 Regiment Army Air Corps. Lt Col Olney has since commented that Tim, who was made an honorary member of the reservist group when he retired from the military in 2009, sounded like he was ringing from just around the corner.
Happy landings: A cold towel offers Tim a refreshing welcome back to Earth on 18th June 2016 (copyright: ESA/ROSCOSMOS)
Christmas Day was spent watching a very apt film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the highlight was unwrapping gifts. Among other things, Rebecca had given Tim a seasonal calendar with each of the 12 days containing a letter from home. “It was the most thoughtful present I had ever received and I was dumbfounded to reflect that all of this would have needed to be planned out and packed up eight months in advance, to be ready to fly on the cargo vehicle.”
The highlight of Tim’s 26 weeks, three days, 23 hours, 11 minutes and 50 seconds (yes, he even counted the seconds!) on the ISS was his spacewalk in January 2016. It was a milestone for many reasons, not least because he was the first British European Space Agency astronaut to do so. “What surprised me was how entirely serene I felt,” he reveals. “I was weightless, no forces exerting themselves on my body. I wasn’t too hot, or too cold. To my left was the Space Station. Below me, gradually going into shadow, was the
  Rotary club: Tim helped to establish Wattisham as the Army’s sole domestic base for Apache attack helicopters (copyright: ESA)

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