Space and sustainability

9th April 2015


You may be surprised to find a story about space exploration on this blog. However, as the world celebrates the International Day of Human Space Flight this Sunday (April 12th), space science and technology continues to make an important contribution to sustainable development here on Earth.

April 12th commemorates the first human space flight, carried out by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, an event which opened the way for space exploration to develop sustainable technologies for use across the globe.


Raleigh alumnus Tim Peake knows something about that. On November 20th, Tim, who went on expedition with Raleigh to Alaska in 1991, will become the first British ESA astronaut to live and work on the International Space Station. Whilst on board, he will be using the unique environment of space to run experiments as well as trying out new technologies for future missions. He feels there are a number of parallels to be drawn between space exploration and sustainable development on Earth. We met up with Tim earlier this year:

“The ISS is aiming to be a 100% closed-cycle system, so sustainability is extremely important in all sorts of areas, in terms of oxygen production, and certainly water,” said Tim.

“We recycle most of the urine that’s produced on board the space station and most of our sweat and perspiration all goes back into potable drinking water for the crew. We have some very sophisticated systems that do that, and this technology has been used to help to develop systems for clean drinking water back here on earth.”

During Tim’s mission, he will also be gathering information on the earth’s climate which will help us to understand trends and drastic changes in our environment. “From space you certainly get a different perspective on everything and some of the tasks that the astronauts have to do on a daily basis is to take earth observation photographs, for example, monitoring lakes and oceans for receding coastlines or melting ice caps so we can gain data on what is happening to our climate,” said Tim.

Tim kayaking

Tim on expedition in Alaska, 1991

In 2011, Un Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon declared that “the International Day of Human Space Flight will remind us of our common humanity and our need to work together to conquer shared challenges." Both current Raleigh volunteers and alumni around the world continue to contribute to conquering these challenges, working alongside communities to achieve positive change.

“The earth is everybody’s responsibility”, said Tim. “That’s a message that we need to shout about loud and clear and if we can get that across to younger generations, hopefully that is something that will follow them through the rest of their lives”.

We have some exclusive interviews from our meeting with Tim, which we’ll be sharing with you on our website and social media soon (watch this…space). You can also follow his preparation by following his twitter @astro_timpeake