British astronaut blasts off with U2 for company
Britain entered the space race yesterday when Major Tim Peake blasted off for the International Space Station.
With the sound of U2's 'Beautiful Day' in his earphones, Major Peake headed off.
Speaking at his final press conference before the launch, Major Peake said he hoped his mission would allow Britain to begin a new era of space exploration.
"This isn't a one-off mission," the 43-year-old told journalists ahead of his lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11.03am GMT yesterday.
"We have a serious project in the European Space Station to land on the moon, and that is part of an exploration of the solar system that will eventually take us to Mars."
Major Peake, a Sandhurst graduate and former helicopter test pilot, from Chichester, has spent six years training for the six-month mission, after answering an internet advert posted by the European Space Agency, entitled 'Do you want to become an astronaut'. He was selected from 8,000 candidates who applied from across Europe.
His mission, named Principia after Isaac Newton's work 'Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica', which described the laws of gravity, could be crucial to our understanding of life on Earth and beyond.
Major Peake is conducting 23 experiments on himself to assess the impact of space flight on the human body, trials which are crucial ahead of a manned mission to Mars.
He is the second engineer and most junior member of the three-man crew, which is completed by Nasa's Tim Kopra and mission commander Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.
The journey to the International Space Station is not without risk. Since the US scrapped the space shuttle programme in 2011, all astronauts are forced to hitch a lift with the Russians on the Soyuz spacecraft - a remnant of Cold War technology which has remained virtually unchanged since 1967.
Despite early problems which saw the deaths of several astronauts, the Soyuz has performed well over the past five decades, but in the last 12 months the Russian space agency Roscosmos has been rocked by a series of scandals and rocket failures.
In April, a Soyuz rocket taking supplies to the ISS failed to separate correctly, entering into an unrecoverable spin, and burning up in the Earth's atmosphere. In July, a solar cell powering the Soyuz spacecraft failed to unfold, and just this month an observation satellite also burned up after failing to properly deploy after launch.
Manned missions have also faced difficulties. On Malenchenko's last mission to the ISS, the Soyuz made a ballistic re-entry, one of the most dangerous situations an astronaut can face, when the landing module came into Earth's atmosphere at the wrong angle. He missed his landing site by nearly 500km.
The Russian space agency has also suffered mishaps with other rockets.
In May, a proton launch vehicle carrying a communications satellite for the Mexican government crashed after blast off.
Investigations into the failures blamed shoddy workmanship and the use of cheap parts, while a government audit at Roscosmos found a €1.6bn black hole in accounts. (© Daily Telegraph, London)