Today is a very proud moment for British space travel because, for the first time in 24 years, a British astronaut has launched into space. Tim Peake blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome earlier today, and after docking later today, he became the first Briton ever to visit the International Space Station (ISS).
“This is hugely important. We’ve finally arrived at the top table,” Doug Millard, curator of the Science Museum in London, said at an event that welcomed thousands of school children to watch the launch. “Tim Peake’s flight is very much for the nation.”
Tim launched in a Soyuz capsule with Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra. They will join NASA’s Scott Kelly, and Russia’s Mikhail Korniyenko and Sergey Volkov, on the station as part of the Expedition 46/47 crew. The journey to the ISS on the cramped Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft took six hours. Tim will be staying for a total of six months, returning to Earth on June 6, 2016.
During his time on the station, Tim will perform 265 scientific experiments, which will include using the first-ever Raspberry Pi computers to go to space, nicknamed Astro Pi. Among other trinkets for him already on the station is a children’s book that he may read to the winner of a competition. In April, Tim will run the London marathon on a treadmill on the station, completing the 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) while orbiting Earth.
Understandably, the launch was met with a huge amount of excitement in the U.K. The event at the Science Museum in London drew thousands of school children, while across the country people celebrated a moment that has been a long time coming. Tim was selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009, and chosen for this mission – Expedition 46, also called Principia – in May 2013.
The last Briton to launch into space was Helen Sharman, who visited the Mir space station in 1991. Since then, several dual U.K.-U.S. citizenship astronauts have launched, but Tim is the first solely U.K. citizen since Sharman.
Tim Peake will hopefully represent the start of a new focus in the U.K. on space. Who knows when the next British astronaut will launch, but for now the country can revel in the knowledge that at least one of their countrymen has flown into space this century.
Check out a replay of the launch from the BBC below.