If there were any doubt that a former Apache helicopter pilot and Britain’s first official astronaut could be cool under pressure, he proved it last night in the face of weirdly aggressive questioning by Jeremy Paxman.
Major Tim Peake might have expected a grilling when his Newsnight adversary introduced him as a man “expected to do more for the image of retired majors than anyone except that drunken old fool who lived in Fawlty Towers.”
Paxman then proceeded to question Peake, who has been selected to man the International Space Station in 2015, as if he were the Minister for Space. “What are we going to get for the £16 million spent putting you up there?” he asked.
Opportunities for industry, science and the inspiration of a new generation of scientists, Peake replied. Good answer, right?
“But what’s the point,” said an increasingly tin-eared Paxman, who went on to suggest being a spaceman might be boring. A spaceman, boring! “You’re just drifting around, aren’t you,” he added.
Paxman learned about the great medical gains of micro-gravity research so turned his inner attack dog (sister of John Humphrys’) on Peake’s eligibility. What made him better than the 7,999 would-be astronauts he beat in the Nasa selection process, he barked.
“You have to have the right character and get on with people,” said an admirably restrained Peake. Or, as he might have replied, “the ability to deal with testing problems in confined spaces.”