Ex-fireman tells of astronaut bid

HE spent two years as a fireman, runs three computer businesses and is just one step from qualifying as a professional stuntman.But it is not 'itchy feet' that is behind Ben Tristem's relentless desire to accomplish a variety of skills.

By Danielle Nuttall

HE spent two years as a fireman, runs three computer businesses and is just one step from qualifying as a professional stuntman.

But it is not 'itchy feet' that is behind Ben Tristem's relentless desire to accomplish a variety of skills.

For the 27-year-old is embarking on a quest to become Suffolk's first astronaut, following in the footsteps of Cambridge astronaut Michael Foale who has clocked up five space flights.


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Mr Tristem, who worked as a retained firefighter in Orford until six months ago, is one of ten people to appear in Channel 4 documentary Superhuman, screened tomorrow.

During the one-off programme, the contestants are put through extremely challenging scientific tests to discover Britain's most extraordinary man and woman.

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Mr Tristem, who lives in and travels across the UK in a motor home with his girlfriend Elizabeth Bury, was selected to take part in the show after being put forward by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The businessman, whose family still live in Orford, is hoping to be taken on by the space agency to train as an astronaut during its next recruitment drive which is likely to be in 2006.

Having already achieved a degree in Information Systems Engineering at the Imperial College London, and in the final year of a second degree in Physical Sciences, Mr Tristem already has many of the skills needed for the astronaut training programme.

Next year he will begin a Phd in Science and Engineering.

He also has three years flying experience and qualifications in gymnastics, sky diving, trampolining, martial arts, and rock climbing.

Once he completes his scuba diving assessment, he will be a qualified stunt man.

Mr Tristem, who launched his first business in computer consultancy when he was 15, said: "All kids want to be an astronaut and then of course completely forget about it.

"I just found myself in a situation two years ago where almost inadvertently I had had the right background and it would be wrong not to push forward with it.

"You have to be the right height and weight and that's something you can't really choose. It's very difficult and there are very few astronauts full stop.

"But I am getting myself to the point where I am allowed to be taken on by the space agency. They want to see someone who takes high risks and stunt work and trading is relevant to that."

Mr Tristem, who was educated at London's Dulwich College, said there were two routes into becoming an astronaut - as a pilot or as an academic.

Only the best pilots in the world stand a chance of selection, however, and Mr Tristem said he decided he would be in a better position to take the academic route despite gaining flying experience.

"I feel that Britain does not put a lot of money into human space flight which is a shame. When you apply against a whole range of European applicants, that might affect me," he said.

"My mum is scared of the idea of me going into space as is my girlfriend."

Superhuman, which will be screened between 7pm and 9pm, subjects its contestants to a host of tough trials to test fearlessness, extreme endurance, sleep control, and emotional intelligence.

Among the tests featured are extreme g-force and a simulated helicopter crash into water.

A total of 2,000 people applied to appear in the programme, which features a fireman, jet skier and circus performer among others.

"It was good fun. One of the tests was sleep deprivation for 48 hours and then six hours of tests and it wasn't nice," said Mr Tristem.

"Most of the tests were enjoyable and it was a great learning experience."

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