Chichester Test Pilot To Visit ISS

A former Army test pilot from West Sussex is to become the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station (ISS) - and says it will be less dangerous than his old job.

Major Tim Peake, 41, will be the first UK astronaut in space for more than 20 years.

One of six candidates selected from more than 8,000 hopefuls, he will live and work on the space station for six months, starting in November 2015.

Asked at a news conference at the Science Museum in London if he was worried about dangers on the mission, he said:

"No, I think my future career is probably far safer than my past career, I've carried out some fairly high risk flight tests. It's not an unfamiliar environment to be working in, I'm not overly apprehensive about that.''

Maj Peake will carry out a science programme and take part in a European education initiative before and during his mission.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

"This is a momentous day, not just for Tim Peake but for Great Britain. It is a great sign of our thriving British space sector, which has seen real growth thanks to our world-class research, and now supports nearly 30,000 jobs.

"What an achievement that Tim was picked for this historic role from over 8,000 applicants from around the world. I am sure he will do us proud and I hope that he will inspire the next generation to pursue exciting careers in science and engineering.''

Chichester-born Maj Peake, who was instrumental in introducing Apache helicopters into service with the British Army, after flying them in the United States, said: ``It really is a true privilege to be assigned to a long duration mission, it feels like a real high point in a long career in aviation.

"I am really grateful to my family, friends and professional colleagues who are supporting me as I prepare for the challenge that lies ahead.

"The mission to the International Space Station is going to be a wonderful opportunity, not just for Europe and European science but the UK as well.''

In a jokey reference to David Bowie fan, Commander Chris Hadfield, he said:

"I do play the guitar, but very badly, and I wouldn't inflict my singing on anybody.''

Cdr Hadfield, from Canada, was his country's first professional astronaut, and gained a legion of fans on the Soyuz space capsule mission to and from the ISS, by performing a cover of the Bowie classic, Space Oddity. He now has close to one million followers on Twitter.

Maj Peake praised Cdr Hadfield for the ``fantastic job'' he had done.

"I don't think I'll be able to top the tweeting, but I will also be tweeting, to encourage a generation to take an interest in space.''

He said it was too early to say what experiments he would be involved in, but there were "rolling experiments'' in different fields on the space station which he expected to continue.

These were in fields such as human physiology, medical research into vaccines, fluids physics and astrobiology.

It was too early to say whether there would be an opportunity for him to do a spacewalk during his tour.

Lift off to the space station would be from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz rocket.

Asked what he was most apprehensive about, he said being away from his wife and two young sons, and not being able to support them if needed.

"They are absolutely thrilled, like I am, well, the 18-month-old is too young to understand about it, but the other one is four and a half years old, he's been to Houston and visited a lab where we do some of our training.

"The family have been very supportive of my career as they were when I was a test pilot, and they continue to be so.''

Asked who he hoped to inspire, he said:

"You are in a position as an astronaut on the International Space Station to be able to inspire the world. He (Cdr Hadfield) was able to do that really well, he was able to embrace the world as a whole, embrace every nation.

"I will be hoping to inspire European people and UK people as well.''

Asked if his future plans involved walking on Mars, the moon, an asteroid, or all three, he said:

"That's a really tough choice. I think it would have to be Mars, as a dream, but I think Mars is just outside my career span. I hope it's within the career span of young people we are hoping to inspire, I hope that's for the 2030s.''

As for training he had had to undertake, he said:

"We lived underground in Sardinia for a week, in a cave, learning psycho social skills which we will need later.

"I've done some very strange things, lived under water for 12 days off the coast of Florida, and weightlessness training is always interesting.

"All of these training events do serve a very real purpose in order that you can accomplish your mission.''

When it is announced who his fellow crew members will be, they will meet and become friends as well as colleagues, he said.

But there is actually quite a lot of space for the six people on board.

"It's the size of a 747-400, that's a lot of space. You can spend a lot of the day alone.''

Maj Peake may take a didgeridoo with him to join the musical instruments already on the ISS - "a friend has offered to teach me how to play''.

Maj Peake has been working with the UK Space Agency in developing the UK's microgravity research programme.

The first Briton in space was Sheffield-born chemistry graduate Helen Sharman in May 1991. She took part in the Soviet mission Project Juno, spending eight days conducting scientific experiments at the Mir Space Station.

Maj Peake graduated from Sandhurst in 1992 as an officer in the Army Air Corps. He served as a platoon commander in Northern Ireland before beginning flying training, being awarded his Army Flying Wings in 1994.

Between 1994 and 1998 he served as a reconnaissance pilot and flight commander in Germany, the former Republic of Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, Kenya and Canada.

He qualified as a helicopter flying instructor in 1998 and was selected for an exchange posting with the US Army, flying Apache helicopters at Fort Hood, Texas from 1999 to 2002.

On his return to the UK, he was employed as an Apache helicopter instructor from 2002 to 2005, when he helped introduce the Apache into service with the British Army.

On retirement from the Army in 2009, he was employed as a helicopter test pilot for AgustaWestland, flying Apache, Lynx, EH101 and A109 aircraft.

He was selected as a European Space Agency astronaut in May 2009 and completed basic training in November 2010. He has Eurocom certification which allows him to be responsible for the communication between the astronauts in orbit and the ground during spaceflights.