Over the last couple of weeks, EO Detective has been travelling around the country, meeting hundreds of people, including – eventually – the person who made this all possible.

Tim Peake in profile with head mikeWe started out near home at the National Space Centre in Leicester. We couldn’t get tickets to hear Tim Peake talk to all that day’s visitors, but we did join a load of teachers later for the launch of Astro Academy: Principia and heard how he had managed to fill the space station with m&ms – and just why that is so awkward. Back to the point. The resources being introduced include videos of Tim carrying out classic dynamics experiments on the ISS. The team from the National Space Academy did the same experiments on Earth and then painstakingly logged the motion of key particles in both to create fantastic resources for GCSE and A level Physics (& a bit of Chemistry too).

Tim peake in academic dress behind lecternWe then filed into the familiar surroundings of the Sir Patrick Moore planetarium while Tim made a quick change – out of flight suit and into ‘proper’ clothes. With due ceremony and several speeches he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University of Leicester. He was immediately whisked away to Manchester, so we’d no chance to speak to him … but we did get some rather good cupcakes with our coffee (although none had stars on this time!).

Demonstrator directs thermal camera at two girls and mother, image of them appears on screenWe went to Manchester too – eventually –  for the NERC Into the Blue event. We set up our thermal cameras and a display of astronaut photographs beneath the wing of Concorde. About 5,000 people of all ages passed through through over the week. While there,  they had the chance to tour the FAAM aircraft which will help us find out more about air pollution, and also cuddle a blow-up Boaty McBoatface who, along with his parent ship, the Sir David Attenborough, will be used to explore the Antarctic.

3 girls looking at posters. Girl kneeling on floor turning to boy also on floor.With no time to rest, it was back to pack up another load of kit and head down to Portsmouth for the first of the Principia Schools’ Conferences. Day one was an activity day. Attendees took part in workshops and had the chance to talk with various people from the space industry to find out more about the things they had studied through the Principia education projects – including ours, of course. In the workshops, several groups of secondary students had a go at a version of our Astronaut or Satellite? activity – because they were using large poster versions of the pictures, there was a lot of detail to explore. Meanwhile, on our stand, people were finding just how difficult it would have been for Tim Peake to get a good picture of Buckingham Palace (a popular choice of location in our competition) from the ISS cupola.

Tim Peake talks to two boys and their mothersBut it was the next day that everyone had been waiting for. The conference proper, where several hundred children shared their space-related work with each other through talks or posters. We were split into groups, and presentations to the ‘orange’ group alone included everything from a single child presenting some professionally-referenced research to the science learning journey of a entire school – via a demonstration of balloon-rocket technology from a group of home-schooled children. We had just enjoyed a fabulous film when Tim himself arrived in the room. He had introduced the conference that morning, welcoming everyone and telling us a bit about what he’d done, but now it was his turn to listen. He worked his way around, asking everyone about their work, shaking hands and posing for photos – all with his trademark grin. There was even time for a quick photo (but no talk) with me, my co-chair Paul from Sirius Astronomy, and Jennie from the University of Portsmouth, one of several star volunteers who did all the running around, guiding and explanations over the two days. Tim was spirited away all too soon to talk to the next group and there were many promises that hands would remain unwashed forever … I hope that they have been, though!

Tweets to and from space ambassadorsThen it was up to York. However, the day before the second conference, there was a meeting of Space Ambassadors – the people who are working with primary schools as part of ESERO’s Tim Peake Primary Project. We shared hints and tips, had fun making ‘robot’ hands, and were just a bit unruly during the briefing at the end of the day …

Catherine, Tim Peake, Rosie at bottom of a staircase
with thanks to Paul Hill

At York, conference day came first (and the student volunteers were in blue rather than purple), but there was a similarly impressive range of work on display and presented in the talks. We went along to listen to Oliver Turnbull talk about his ‘Trees‘ program for the Astro Pi, but arrived in time to hear Marcus Panchal talk about how he had turned the same device into an MP3 player for the ISS crew. On finding out this clever coder is now at Leicester studying medicine, we lost no time in booking him to help with our Games Workshop/Hackday. Once again, Tim was determined to talk to every delegate and, once again, he managed it – even having enough time to spare to meet up with those education partners and Space Ambassadors who were there before he dashed off again, this time to Huston.

Demonstrator shows children a range of maps spread along a table - tablets also on table.Activity day at York was open to the public and thousands came. We ran an extra workshop to cope with demand, had budding space photographers searching for locations across the globe and gave away every colouring book and pack of Meet the EO Detectives cards we had with us. If you missed out, then you can download Colour in the Earth from the Principia website now, and a print-it-yourself version of the cards will be available in the New Year. Unfortunately, it’s not within our power to fix it for you to meet Tim, but if you keep on with the space-related work, and the UK Space Agency team organise another schools conference, maybe …