Revellers enjoying end-of-year entertainment at Edinburgh’s world-famous Hogmanay extravaganza are expecting a truly out-of-this-world experience when a New Year’s greeting is beamed from space.
Major Tim Peake, the first British astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS), will broadcast the message from the satellite to appear on screens at the event just before midnight.
But let’s just hope Major Tim can get through to ground control in the capital – extra-terrestrial communications have been causing problems for the UK’s first official spaceman.
When he decided to “phone home” a few days after lift-off, the astronaut was forced to leave an answerphone message because his parents had “popped out”.
On another occasion he dialled a wrong number, getting through to a pensioner who hung up thinking it was a prank call.
Betty Barker, a 79-year-old retired teacher, assumed the caller had been drinking.
“He said, ‘Hello, is that planet Earth?’ So I said, ‘No’,” she said. “I thought it was someone who had been out down the pub who was having me on.”
However, partygoers in the capital can take heart – the Major and his fellow astronauts successfully posted a Christmas message from the final frontier.
In the video, which ends with the crew performing a spin in zero gravity before waving, he said: “Although we can’t be with our friends and family this year, we will be orbiting 16 times on Christmas Day and sending all our good wishes to everybody back down on beautiful planet Earth.”
Around 75,000 people from more than 80 countries are expected to gather for Edinburgh’s annual street party, with entertainment across four stages and seven screens set up along Princes Street.
Headline acts include Maximo Park, Shooglenifty and Peatbog Faeries.
“This is a truly global event,” said Peter Irvine, director of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.
“This year we’ve gone one better and will be visited from space.
“Revellers throughout the city centre should keep an eye on the event and stage screens just before the midnight moment.”
A former Army Air Corps officer and helicopter test pilot, 43-year-old Peake is the first fully British professional astronaut employed by a space agency. Recruited and trained by the European Space Agency (ESA), he blasted off on 15 December as millions watched around the world.
In the few hours that revellers will spend enjoying the street party, the ISS – travelling at five miles per second – will orbit Earth three times, according to Dr Simon Gage, director of Edinburgh International Science Festival.
“If we are lucky we may even spot it going over,” he said.
“With UK astronaut Tim Peake aboard, 2016 will be a remarkable year for UK space science, with much for us all to follow and be inspired by.
“We’re delighted to have been able to extend the invitation to Tim and the UK Space Agency and ESA to bring a little bit of science to this great party.”
As part of the six-month Principia mission, the astronaut will help conduct experiments that could shape future expeditions to Mars and even deeper into the universe.