At 11.03am UK time, on 15th December 2016, Major Tim Peake became the first British government funded astronaut to journey to the International Space Station.
Major Peake and his fellow astronauts, Tim Kopra and Yuri Malenchenko, will spend the next six months on the ISS after their craft, the Soyuz TM capsule, achieved a faultless launch from a standing start from the Baikanour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Reaching the Earth’s orbit in only 8 minutes and 48 seconds, it then took just six hours for the Soyuz to catch up with the space station, which travels at 17,500mph as it orbits the Earth.
During the final approach, the probe of the Soyuz was captured by a series of hooks on the docking cone of the International Space Station, allowing all three astronauts to pass inside at a height of 400km from Earth.
A Major in the British Army, 41 year old Peake is the first Briton ever to be accepted into the European Astronaut Corps. He has been training for this mission since 2009, and beat 8000 hopeful astronauts to take part.
Peake follows in the footsteps of Helen Sharman, who was the first Briton to go into space as part of the Russian space corps on Project Juno, a co-operative project between a number of British companies and the Soviet government. In 1991, Sharman spent a week aboad the Russian Mir space station. Other British astronauts, Michael Foale and Piers Sellers, who flew missions on the US space shuttle, had to take dual citizenship in order to attain their dream of travelling in space.
Peake’s mission, named Principa, after Sir Issac Newton’s thesis on gravity, is to undertake a vast array of scientific experiments in the ISS’s Columbus laboratory with his colleagues, including the effect of headaches after space travel, complex research, and space walks. The last of these, Peake has said, would be his “ultimate” space experience.
Peake’s mission is also the first to have received funding from the government, and perhaps this, as well as the great public interest generated, will mean that there will be more British astronauts in the years to come.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.