Boldly going where TV hasn't gone before: Channel 4's Live From Space broadcasts from International Space Station - and we'll see astronauts travel around the world in 90 minutes 

  • Season culminates in two-and-a-half-hour pioneering live broadcast from the ISS and Mission Control in Houston on Sunday on Channel 4

By Guy Walters

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As it passes through a clear night sky, you might be forgiven for thinking that the slow moving small white light was a low aircraft.

However, you could not be more wrong. That gliding pinprick, if you are lucky enough to see it, is in fact the 450 tonnes that makes up the International Space Station (ISS), and it is constantly hurtling through space at some 17,500 miles per hour, at an altitude of some 250 miles.

Because the ISS has been orbiting above the heads of us mere earthlings for some 16 years, it has become all too easy to become rather blasé about it, and to think of it as no more remarkable than, say, a normal weather satellite.

British astronaut Major Tim Peake is one of the stars of a two-and-a-half-hour pioneering live broadcast from the ISS and Mission Control in Houston on Sunday on Channel 4

British astronaut Major Tim Peake is one of the stars of a two-and-a-half-hour pioneering live broadcast from the ISS and Mission Control in Houston on Sunday on Channel 4

However, with the showing of Live From Space, a fascinating mini-season of programmes on Channel 4, it is high time that we stopped taking this incredible spacecraft for granted.

On Sunday night, the season culminates in a two-and-a-half-hour pioneering live broadcast from the ISS and Mission Control in Houston, during which viewers will be able to watch the astronauts onboard the space station as they travel around the world in 90 minutes.

In addition, the astronauts will share their breathtaking views of planet Earth, and they will explain what exactly they get up to all day in their celestial home and office.

 

Helping to make sense of what we will be seeing is Britain’s first ever astronaut, Major Tim Peake, 41, a former Army helicopter pilot who is due to visit the ISS for a 6-month mission next year.

Understandably, Tim always keeps a look out for the space station when it passes above him.

‘I always get excited when I see the ISS,’ he admits, ‘and I even have an app on my phone which gives me an alarm whenever it is getting close! Of course, it’s a bit different when you’re going up there yourself.’

The International Space Station (ISS) is constantly hurtling through space at some 17,500 miles per hour, at an altitude of some 250 miles

The International Space Station (ISS) is constantly hurtling through space at some 17,500 miles per hour, at an altitude of some 250 miles

Tim explains what life will be like for him when he does get there.

‘The daily working routine is punishing,’ he says. ‘Much of the time, we will performing scientific experiments, and then clearing them up.’

One question Tim is often asked is whether the ISS is claustrophobic.

‘I’ve never heard anybody describe it as cramped!’ he says. ‘It’s the size of a Boeing 747-400, and there are only six of us on board, so there is plenty of room. In fact, it quite usual to spend a whole day in one of the modules on your own and not see another person.’

Naturally, Tim and his fellow astronauts have to train immensely hard. As well as having to become proficient scientists, they also have to learn to dock manually visiting vehicles with the ISS, go on space walks, and - perhaps most challenging of all - to deal with each other.

‘Managing relationships is one of the most important parts of our training,’ says Tim. ‘You just have to get on well. Crews consist of people from different countries and cultures, and we all have to be aware of that.’

As well as having to become proficient scientists, the astronauts also have to learn to dock manually visiting vehicles with the ISS, go on space walks, and - perhaps most challenging of all - to deal with each other

As well as having to become proficient scientists, the astronauts also have to learn to dock manually visiting vehicles with the ISS, go on space walks, and - perhaps most challenging of all - to deal with each other

One of the most intense periods of training is when the astronauts are taken to a cave in Sardinia, where they spend a week working together on problems and tasks.

‘It’s funny to think that an underground cave is a good analogue for space,’ says Tim, ‘but it really is. Physically, it’s a tough environment, we have to change clothes a lot, take photographs, and take lots of scientific samples. And all the time, we have to work on our leadership and followership skills.’

During Tim’s six-month mission, he will have very little downtime, but when he does, like many of the astronauts, he might head to a 7-window cupola from where the crew can gaze down on the planet they call home.

‘Although the cupola is meant to be a place that is used for observing Earth and controlling robotic arms,’ says Tim, ‘I know that many use the cupola simply to take in the amazing view.’

And it’s that view that we will all be able to enjoy on Sunday night when Channel 4 links up to the ISS for what promises to be literally an out-of-this-world programme.

The man behind the show is TV producer Tom Brisley, who has long been fascinated by space. ‘I had always wanted to do something about space,’ he says, ‘but the challenge was always finding the right way to tell the story.’

‘The eureka moment finally came when it occurred to me that the ISS takes 90 minutes to orbit the Earth – that makes a perfect length for a TV programme.’

The full programme will in fact last two-and-a-half hours. The most powerful element will undoubtedly be the breathtaking views of the globe, which will be filmed by three high-definition cameras that are attached to the exterior of the ISS.

‘Of course, we won’t be able to control the weather,’ says Tom, ‘but there’s no doubt that come what way, there will be some amazing views.’

The astronauts will share their breathtaking views of planet Earth, and they will explain what exactly they get up to all day in their celestial home and office

The astronauts will share their breathtaking views of planet Earth, and they will explain what exactly they get up to all day in their celestial home and office

One of the most spectacular phenomena will be witnessing the fall of night across the globe.

‘It will be the most extraordinary sight,’ says Tom. ‘We will be able to watch this line of night creeping across the globe. It will be absolutely spectacular.’

Unfortunately, viewers will not be able to see planets and stars, as the rapid movement of the ISS makes it very difficult for cameras to focus on such distant objects.

Like all live TV, the programme will have its technical challenges, and there will be plenty of opportunity for things not to go according to plan.

‘Sometimes Nasa lose the signal from the ISS for 20 to 30 minutes,’ says Tom. ‘If that happens, then we just have to deal with it. But I think that’s going to be part of the fun of the show!’

Also helping to talk viewers through the journey around the earth will be Professor Stephen Hawking, who will help to provide some philosophical ballast to the show.

‘One of the big questions we have to answer is, “Why do we have a space station up there?”’, says Tom. ‘Although lots of vital experiments are carried out into researching cancer, and to examining the behaviour of compounds and plants, we also have to look at the context of the ISS in regards to the future of the human race.’

For many, the astronauts up in the ISS are the Christopher Columbuses of their day. They are starting to explore a place where, one day, mankind may have to inhabit.

The Earth is finite, and if man wants to continue, he will have to make his home elsewhere. The ISS is therefore just a very small step for man.

Live from Space: Lap of the Planet airs at 7.30pm, Sunday, Channel 4

THE ROUTE OF THE ISS

The route of the ISS would make Phileas Fogg green with envy - and perhaps with more than a little motion sickness. Travelling at 17,500 miles per hour, the ISS can go around the word 16 times per day - that’s once every ninety minutes.

On Sunday night, Channel 4 will make contact with the space station as it passes over Los Angeles while Californians are enjoying a mid morning coffee. The ISS will then proceed down the west coast of the United States and Mexico. In Latin America, we shall hopefully see mountains and jungle as it passes over the north of the Andes, and cuts across the south of Brazil.

This is followed by a long haul over the Atlantic, before it makes landfall again around Cape Town. If we are in luck, we might be able to see the Southern Lights, as well as violent thunderstorms over southern Africa.

The ISS then heads in a north-easterly direction, and crosses the Indian Ocean. It will be night when it approaches Malaysia and Vietnam, and if the smog has lifted, we should be able to see the lights of Beijing.

The last land we spot will be part of Japan, after which the ISS rockets over the Pacific, to once more fly over the west coast of the United States – by which time Californians will be sitting down for lunch.

DID YOU KNOW? FAST FACTOIDS

At 109 metres long, the ISS is the same length as a full size football pitch.

The electrical power system consists of eight miles of cable.

It took 115 space flights to construct the ISS.

It only takes 6 hours to travel to the Space Station. The flight backs takes 12 hours, during which the astronauts can experience 8 G of pressure.

The computers on the ISS contain 2 million lines of software code, which is supported by another 3.3 million lines back on Earth.

Last July, an astronaut nearly drowned during a spacewalk because debris clogged a waterpipe and it flooded into his spacesuit.









 

The comments below have not been moderated.

Fantastic idea but why not get a knowledgable presenter to front the show. Dermots a nice chap but he should stick to singing shows.

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Dreadful. This could have been absolutely wonderful, but all we saw were a few fleeting glimpses of the earth being constantly interrupted by the inane Dermott demonstrating his complete lack of knowledge of the subject. A wasted opportunity.

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Amazing! I was hooked, best live program on TV ever....FACT

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I watched a programme from the International Space Station earlier in the day - Channel4 hasn't secured a scoop...:-!

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Dermot was not the right choice to present a science programme like this. If we needed someone from the music world then it should have been the Renown astrophysicist Brian May from the band Queen presenting this show

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great idea really interesting shame i cant watch it because of Dermott Dreary and his dumbness

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Disappointed. Dermot hasn't got a clue and is either wittering aimlessly or can't say anything because he knows nowt about it. Where's Brian Cox when you want something interesting to hear? Or Dara Obriain. Too many ads! I've given up watching it now. Keep thinking he's about to announce that we're over the judges houses, or all the votes have been counted and verified...

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I've tuned in to see if I can spot Kim Karcrashians backside.

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I hope we get 90 minutes of looking at the Earth rather than a pointless chat show in space where they repeatedly tell us everything we already know - including how only one in every several million of us gets to be astronauts and how those of us watching aren't the ones.

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Looks interesting but it's been on nasa tv for some years!

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