Astronaut Tim Peake says alien life exists out in cosmos

On visit to Northern Ireland, space veteran says he believes humans will walk on Mars

"Absolutely yes," was the response of astronaut Tim Peake when asked if he believed humans would eventually land on Mars.

It was another emphatic “yes” when he was questioned as to whether or not he believed alien life existed somewhere out in the cosmos.

No wonder the 200 Northern Ireland primary and second-level students were spell-bound when the fairly recently returned-to-earth British and European Space Agency astronaut charted how some of them might boldly go where no man or woman has gone before.

Mr Peake was speaking at the W5 scientific interaction centre in the Titanic Quarter area of Belfast on Tuesday about how, after blasting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 15th last year, he spent more than six months living and working on the International Space Station (ISS).

In Glasgow, as part of this brief tour of Britain and Northern Ireland, he was asked about bodily waste functions on the station, prompting him to explain that "yesterday's pee is this morning's coffee basically".

“But actually it tastes absolutely fine. The drinking water on the space station tastes great but it does go through a fairly rapid recycling process,” he assured the Scottish audience.

His young audience, from places like the Shankill and the Ligoniel in Belfast, and from Larne, Bangor, Carryduff and Kircubbin, were much more intrigued by the prospects of what might be out there in the great vastness and how far humans might explore into the universe.

Also among the audience was the proud father-in-law of the astronaut, John King, a native of Newtownards, Co Down whose daughter Rebecca is married to Mr Peake.

Moon base

The astronaut told the students that in terms of space exploration it was now possible to create a space station that would last for 30 years. There were also hopes that a “permanently manned moon base” would be established with the additional plan to have a mission to Mars.

Mr Peake said “absolutely yes” that humans would land on Mars. But it was more likely to be a first for someone from the generation of young people he was speaking to in the W5 than from his own contemporaries, he added.

All such developments would require cooperation between bodies such as Nasa and the European Space Agency and other international partners, he said.

Asked by Luke McKay from Larne in Co Antrim if he believed there was extra-terrestrial life out there, Mr Peake replied, "Yes, to give you a straight answer." He said that in terms of water and organic compounds the "building blocks for life, if you like, are floating around in the solar system".

“The chances of their being life elsewhere in the universe are exceptionally high,” he added.

Asked which was better, micro-gravity on the ISS or regular gravity on earth, he said: "The feeling of weightlessness is much more fun; it is a wonderful feeling to be able to float around.

“In space you suddenly realise just how small you are,” Mr Peake added. “It does give you a perspective of our place in the universe, and that does change you. It makes you appreciate planet earth; it makes you appreciate how fragile that strip of atmosphere really is.”