British astronaut Tim Peake prepares to blast into orbit
British astronaut Tim Peake is preparing for the ride of his life as a Russian rocket blasts him into orbit today.
Major Peake, the first Briton to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS), will take off at 11.03am UK time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
He will fly from Launch Pad 1, the historic spot from which Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April 1961.
His wife, Rebecca, and two sons Thomas, six and Oliver, four, will be watching as Major Tim and his two crew companions are lifted into the sky by a Soyuz FG rocket packed with 300 tonnes of fuel.
Travelling with him are Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko and Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra.
The trio will be squeezed into the "descent module" of a tiny Soyuz TMA space capsule only about seven feet long.
At launch the 162 ft rocket generates 422.5 tonnes of thrust - a total of 26 million horsepower.
Before lift off the crew have to endure a tense wait of an hour or more in the capsule, during which they can listen to play lists of selected music.
The three songs Major Peake chose were Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, U2's Beautiful Day, and Coldplay's A Sky Full Of Stars.
At a press conference in Baikonur yesterday Major Peake said what he was looking forward to most was his first glimpse of Earth seen from space.
He said: "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 the launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
But he expected to speak to members of his family on Christmas Day, and was also looking forward to tucking into a Christmas Pudding sent to the space station in a supply delivery.
After lift-off, it should take six hours for the crew to reach the ISS, which hurtles round the Earth at 17,500 mph at an average altitude of 220 miles.
Major Peake is the first fully British professional astronaut to be sent into space.
Previous "Brits in Space" have either been US citizens or had dual citizenship, or been on privately funded or sponsored trips.
Major Peake is employed by the European Space Agency and sports a Union Jack on his sleeve.
In his final message to his followers on Twitter, Major Peake said: "Last tweet before launch - GO for flight! Thanks for all the good luck messages - phenomenal support!"
And the UK Space Agency tweeted pictures of the astronaut signing a door and receiving a blessing before the crew suited up and prepared to board the spaceship.