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Tim Peake is star attraction at Waterstones

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The queue began on the stairs near the front door.

Hundreds had turned up to Waterstones on Sidney Street to get a signed copy of Tim Peake’s latest work, The Astronaut Selection Test Book.

The event was hugely good-natured, with a book reading in an enclave about the solar system capturing the attention of dozens of younger readers. The adults, it seemed, were mostly there because of their children, whose imaginations had been fired up by Britain’s most famous astronaut.

The queue at Waterstones (5689909)
The queue at Waterstones (5689909)

Melbourn resident Caroline Baker had brought her sons Sam, 15 and Adam, 16. Sam seemed to be the main Peake fan. He’s been tracking the star astronaut “for quite a while”.

“It started off with a space game,” he says. “There’s lots of computer games involving space, for instance Elite Dangerous [a Frontier Developments game] and NASA Kerbal Space Programme, which you can buy on Steam [a digital distribution channel for gamers]. I’ve already read Ask An Astronaut by Tim Peake. I want to go into designing rockets: I’m more into the engineering and physics rather than into being an astronaut.”

Cambridge resident Julia Wordsworth said of her children Oliver, 13, Grace, 10 and Rupert, seven: “They’re all Tim Peake fans. We’ve been up to the National Space Centre in Leicester numerous times.”

“He makes me laugh when he messes about,” says Rupert, “but I’m not going to be an astronaut.”

Bradley family (5686007)
Bradley family (5686007)

Next up was Dr Daryl Bradley, who went with his wife Helen and children Hattie, one, and Evie, five. Dr Bradley is a patent attorney at Fulbourn-based chip maker Arm.

He said: “Our daughter came back from nursery one day and she’d been told that only boys can be astronauts by some other children and we thought, well, that’s the perfect time to be told by an astronaut that you can do it.”

Then I spot Adam Baker, who’s just had his copy signed. What did he ask the great man?

“I asked for tips to learn Russian. He had to speak Russian on the Space Station. He recommended some CDs.”

Natalie Willbe had come all the way from Letchworth Garden City. “I feel quite pleased just to be here,” she said. With Natalie were sons Freddie, aged 10, and Zach, eight.

“Freddie says he wants to be an astronaut or in space tech like Elon Musk – I’m waiting to be informed of his decision,” Natalie says with a smile. “We do encourage them to keep an open mind, and this is an opportunity to meet their idols.”

Freddie is pretty well prepped.

Natalie Willbe with Freddie, 10 and Zach, 8 (5689878)
Natalie Willbe with Freddie, 10 and Zach, 8 (5689878)

“I’ve known about Tim Peake for about three years,” he says. “Because he’s an astronaut.”

Do you know the names of any other astronauts, I ask? “Yuri Gagarin,” is the immediate response. The Russian guy who was the first man in space? “Yes. All the controls of the Soyuz are in Russian, so it’s necessary maybe.”

Have you got any questions you want to ask Tim?

“Which football team does he support?” says Freddie.

How about what’s the best meal he’s ever eaten in space?

“They have it all in tubes,” replies Freddie witheringly, at which point I felt as if maybe he might make a better journalist than some.... “But one of the commander’s once smuggled in a corned beef sandwich.”

Brother Zach isn’t quite so impressed. In fact there are times when he finds Freddie “a bit annoying”. Zach “wants to be a doctor in a speedboat in Cornwall”. I make a fast getaway myself before I get shown up any further.

Younger customers listen to a reading from Tim Peake's book (5689900)
Younger customers listen to a reading from Tim Peake's book (5689900)

Martina Turner from Willingham is at Waterstones with her daughter Chrissie, 11, and her friend Magda Nola from Cottenham, who has brought along her son Max, 12.

“I’m really inspired by Tim Peake,” says Chrissie. “It started when he took off for the space station and I was in school assembly, it was 2015 I think.” (It was December 15, 2015.) “I followed him on the space station. I’m here to learn.”

“I’ve been a Tim Peake fan for a long time,” adds Max, sounding older than his 12 years. “I saw the rocket at school too – I go to the same school as Chrissie – and it made a really big impression. Then I bought his book and he was kind and quite funny.”

“We found out he lives in Germany,” says Chrisssie. “The European Space Programme is based in Germany and he’s only in this country a couple of days a year.”

Last but by no means least I bump into Chris Gissing who – as I know from my day job – works at Science Park-based software firm Citrix. He’s there with son Miles, eight.

“We’re both fans,” says Chris. “Miles is a space obsessive and I worked on the problem of latency for the International Space Station.”

Chris Gissing with son Miles, 8 (5689897)
Chris Gissing with son Miles, 8 (5689897)

Citrix helped resolve the latency issue on Earth-to-Space-Station communication.

“The space latency was about one and a half seconds,” Chris explains, “and that proved quite challenging, as there was lots of to-ing and fro-ing. So we delivered a virtual desktop on Earth and they logged on to the virtual desktop from space – it was Windows-based – and that helped resolve the problem. It was via a sort of streaming method so they could handle the machine in real time.” Miles is a Peake fan “because he’s a British astronaut and I probably want to work in aerospace”.

Tim Peake at Waterstones (5689873)
Tim Peake at Waterstones (5689873)

It seems the man himself enjoyed the occasion too.

“It was fantastic to see so many people in Cambridge,” Tim Peake told the Cambridge Independent, “and great to hear how many had also recently enjoyed making the journey to Peterborough to see the Soyuz capsule on display.”

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