A FORMER helicopter pilot is set to become the first British astronaut to set foot in the International Space Station.

Tim Peake, from Chichester, will blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at midday today.

Speaking at a press conference on the eve of his historic launch, he was asked what he was looking forward to most about the mission.

He said: "It really has to be the view of Planet Earth.

"I don't think anything can truly prepare you for that moment and that will occur in the Soyuz spacecraft once we get injected into orbit I'll be able to look out the right window and see the beautiful view of Planet Earth."

He also revealed that Christmas had nearly slipped his mind in the hectic run up to his mission.

Speaking alongside his two crew member colleagues from behind a glass partition, he said: "You know, we've been so busy focused on this mission that I kind of forgot Christmas was just over a week away.

"Of course we'll be enjoying the fantastic view of Planet Earth and our thoughts will be with everybody on Earth enjoying Christmas, and with our friends and family, of course.

"We'll thankfully be able to give them a call on Christmas Day."

"I also hear a Christmas pudding went up on Orbital Four (a supply mission to the space station), so we'll have some treats as well."

Major Peake, 43, is the first British astronaut to be sent on a mission to the ISS. He is also the first fully British professional astronaut.

Major Peake is employed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and sports a Union Flag on his sleeve.

He stood and smiled as he was introduced at the press conference to loud applause.

Members of his family, including his parents Nigel and Angela Peake, were in the auditorium along with TV crews, photographers and reporters from all over the world.

Major Peake said he had his colleagues to thank for preparing him psychologically and emotionally for the challenge to come.

He said his intense training, which included living in a cave with other astronauts for seven days and spending 12 days underwater, had also played a key role.

He said: "These missions really are analogues and they helped us prepare for space missions, but more importantly it's the more informal casual discussions with your friends and colleagues who have flown in space.

"That's what really prepares you for what's to come."


SHORTLY after retiring from the Army, Major Tim Peake received a phone call that changed his life.

He had been preparing to move to Somerset with his wife and two children. 

But that was put on hold as he boarded a plane for Paris to join a team of space cadets competing to be the European Space Agency’s first British astronaut.

At lunchtime today, Major Peake will be blasting into orbit to spend six months in the International Space Station (ISS) where he will be both a guinea pig for experiments and act as the face of Britain’s next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Major Peake said: “Of course there’s going to be some apprehension.

“You’re on top of 300 tonnes of fuel and you’re basically just going to be focused on the mission and what’s to come.

“It’s important to say goodbye to friends and family and just draw a line and really focus on the mission ahead.”

Talking about his mission to inspire the children of Britain, he said: “The legacy I hope for is that this will inspire a new generation to look at science, to look at space, as an exciting career path, and to make choices that push them in that direction.”

During the launch Major Peake and his fellow spacemen, Russian crew commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra, will be squeezed into the tiny 7ft long descent module of a Soyuz TMA spacecraft, a Russian craft which has a 100 per cent mission success rate.

Once in space they will move to the spherical orbital module which is only slightly more spacious and attaches to the ISS.

Major Peake’s mission, named Principia after Sir Isaac Newton’s text setting out the laws of gravity and motion, will see him conduct around 30 experiments with an emphasis on education and outreach.

He described the astronaut selection process as an incredible experience that opened his eyes to the world of human space flight.

It involved hours of computer-based tests designed to evaluate skills such as memory, concentration, and spatial awareness as well as numerous psychological assessments.

Major Peake was born in Sussex and went to Chichester High School for Boys.

After school he joined the Army and was a helicopter pilot serving in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Kenya and Canada.

In 1998, he qualified as a pilot instructor before he was chosen for an exchange posting with the US Army, flying Apache attack helicopters.

On his return to the UK, he became an Apache helicopter flying instructor and was then offered the chance to train as a test pilot.

He graudated from the Empire Test Pilots’ School at Boscombe Down in 2005 and was awarded the Westland Trophy for the best rotary wing pilot student.

The following year he received a bachelor of science degree in flight dynamics and evaluation from the University of Portsmouth.

In his spare time he enjoys skiing, scuba diving, climbing and cross-country running, which inspired him to aim to complete the London Marathon on a treadmill on the ISS.