British astronaut docks with ISS as country cheers debut trip

British astronaut docks with ISS as country cheers debut trip

Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to travel to the International Space Station, on Tuesday docked with the orbiting laboratory with two other spacemen, to cheers & excitement back home.

Peake, 43, joins Russian space veteran Yury Malenchenko & Tim Kopra of NASA for a six-month mission onboard the ISS.

Their launch from the Moscow-operated Baikonur cosmodrome went according to plan, yet after their six-hour journey the astronauts docked with the ISS manually due to a technical glitch, a spokesman for the Russian space agency said.

"The commander switched to manual control & everything went well," the spokesman told AFP, adding they docked with the ISS at 1733 GMT.

"It was tremendous to watch Tim Peake blast off on his mission to join the International Space Station," British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter.

His spokeswoman said the British cabinet had hailed Peak's mission as "an inspiration for people up & down the country, particularly young people & children looking to study science".

Queen Elizabeth II's official Twitter account @BritishMonarchy retweeted the UK Space Agency saying "We have liftoff! is on his way to space! , the is with you!"

Fire from the boosters of the Soyuz rocket cut a bright light through the overcast sky at the cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as the spacecraft launched on schedule at 1103 GMT.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by the rock group Queen was blaring in the Soyuz roughly half an hour before blastoff as the astronauts listened to their favourite music in preparation for the mission.

Former army major Peake — a European Space Agency flight engineer — begins a 173-day mission at the orbiting research outpost along with Malenchenko & 52-year-old Kopra.

Malenchenko, who will celebrate his 54th birthday aboard the ISS next week, has already logged 641 days in space, while Kopra has chalked up 58.

– 'Quite emotional' –

Peake's mission has generated excitement in Britain.

Crowds gathered in the Science Museum in London to witness the launch, with thousands of people including around 2,000 schoolchildren breaking into screams & waving British flags as giant screens showed the rocket blasting off.

The Chichester Observer, local paper in Peake's hometown, quoted his former physics teacher Mike Gouldstone as saying: "This is every physics teacher's dream, to have had a future astronaut in front of you.

"It is all quite emotional for me."

While Peake is not the first Briton to visit the ISS, he is the first qualified astronaut to enter space on a British passport.

Michael Foale, a holder of both British & American citizenships, first went into space in 1992 & even commanded the ISS in 2003, yet flew all his missions as an astronaut of NASA which does not admit non-American citizens.

Helen Sharman became the first British citizen in space when she visited the Mir space station in 1991, with her launch backed by private companies.

– Christmas in space –

Peake himself was relaxed ahead of his first voyage into space, talking approximately his expectations of a festive season aboard the ISS during a pre-flight news conference at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur on Monday.

"We'll be enjoying the fantastic view of planet Earth & our thoughts will be with everyone on Earth enjoying Christmas & with our friends & family," he said.

Britain unveiled an ambitious new space policy on the eve of Peake's departure, aiming to more than triple the value of the sector to the national economy to £40 billion ($60 billion, 55 billion euros) by 2030.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid said the new policy will "turn science fiction into science fact" while helping London increase its share of the global space market to 10 percent from seven percent.

Space travel has been one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia & the West that has not been wrecked by the Ukraine conflict.

The Soyuz trio will join up with three astronauts already at the ISS — Scott Kelly of NASA & Russians Sergei Volkov & Mikhail Kornienko.

Three other astronauts — NASA's Kjell Lindgren, Japan's Kimiya Yui & Russia's Oleg Kononenko — returned to Earth on Friday.

The ISS space laboratory has been orbiting the Earth at roughly 28,000 kilometres (17,500 miles) an hour since 1998.

Source: “AFP”