British astronaut travels to ISS as country cheers debut trip

15th December 2015, Comments 0 comments

Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to travel to the International Space Station, blasted off on Tuesday from the Baikonur cosmodrome with two other spacemen, to cheers and excitement back home

Peake, 43, joins Russian space veteran Yury Malenchenko and Tim Kopra of NASA for a six-month mission on the ISS.

Fire from the boosters of the Soyuz rocket cut a bright light through the overcast sky at the Moscow-operated cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as the spacecraft launched on schedule at 1103 GMT.

"It was great to watch Tim Peake blast off on his mission to join the International Space Station," British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter.

A meeting of Cameron's cabinet "agreed that Tim Peake's mission is an inspiration for people up and down the country, particularly young people and children looking to study science," his spokeswoman said.

Queen Elizabeth II's official Twitter account @BritishMonarchy retweeted the UK Space Agency saying "We have liftoff! @astro_timpeake is on his way to space! #GoodLuckTim, the #UK is with you!"

Russian space officials said the launch had gone according to plan and that the spacecraft was due to dock at the ISS at about 1724 GMT.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by the rock group Queen was blaring in the Soyuz roughly half an hour before blastoff as the astronauts listened to their favourite music in preparation for the mission.

Former army major Peake -- a European Space Agency flight engineer -- begins a 173-day mission at the orbiting research outpost along with Malenchenko, 53, and 52-year-old Kopra.

Malenchenko, who will celebrate his 54th birthday aboard the ISS next week, has already logged 641 days in space, while Kopra has chalked up 58.

- 'Quite emotional' -

Peake's mission has generated excitement in Britain.

Crowds gathered in the Science Museum in London to witness the liftoff, with thousands of people including around 2,000 schoolchildren breaking into screams and waving British flags as giant screens set up in the exhibition hall showed the rocket blasting off.

Another party was planned for Tuesday evening, with the museum staying open late in a special celebration and a talk by

Helen Sharman, the first British citizen to go into space.

While Peake is not the first Briton to visit the ISS, he is the first qualified astronaut to enter space on a British passport.

Michael Foale, a holder of both British and American citizenships first went into space in 1992 and even commanded the ISS in 2003, but flew all his missions as an astronaut of NASA which does not admit non-American citizens.

Sharman became the first British citizen in space when she visited the Mir space station in 1991, with her launch backed by private companies.

Peake's mission came about after Britain agreed in 2012 to increase its funding contributions to the European Space Agency.

- Christmas in space -

Peake himself was relaxed ahead of his first voyage into space, talking about his expectations of a festive season aboard the ISS during a pre-flight news conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur on Monday.

"We'll be enjoying the fantastic view of planet Earth and our thoughts will be with everyone on Earth enjoying Christmas and with our friends and family," he said.

On the eve of Peake's departure, the British government unveiled an ambitious new space policy.

The policy aims to more than triple the value of the sector to the national economy, reaching $40 billion by 2030.

UK Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, said the new policy will "turn science fiction into science fact" while helping London increase its share of the global space market from seven to 10 percent.

Space travel has been one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia and the West that has not been wrecked by the Ukraine conflict.

The Soyuz trio will join up with three astronauts already at the ISS -- Scott Kelly of NASA and Russians Sergei Volkov and Mikhail Kornienko.

Three other astronauts -- NASA's Kjell Lindgren, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko -- returned to Earth on Friday.

The ISS space laboratory has been orbiting the Earth at roughly 28,000 kilometres (17,500 miles) an hour since 1998.

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© 2015 AFP

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