British astronaut Tim Peake begins mission on International Space Station

British astronaut Tim Peake begins mission on International Space Station

Britain's star astronaut Tim Peake has started his mission on the International Space Station (ISS) after a perfect rocket launch watched by his family.

A Russian Soyuz FG rocket blasted Major Peake, 43, into a clear sky over the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11.03 GMT, precisely on time.

In under 10 minutes he was in space, & after a tense few minutes when the automatic docking system had to be diverted to manual control, his orbiting capsule locked on to the ISS.

Major Peake was the second to climb through the hatch, with his two travelling companions, Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko & American astronaut Tim Kopra.

In a live link to family & friends viewing the drama on a cinema screen in a Baikonur theatre, he said of the journey: " It was a attractive launch, that sunrise was absolutely spectacular. We moreover received the benefit of a moon rise which was attractive to see.

"To Europe & the UK, I hope you enjoyed the show."

His wife Rebecca told him: "There were quite a few parties down on the ground, so your launch was well celebrated by everybody down here. Have a tremendous mission. We love you."

A former Army aviator & helicopter test pilot, Major Peake is the first Briton to join the crew of the ISS. He is moreover the first fully British professional astronaut working for a space agency.

Previous "Brits in space" have either had US or dual citizenship or been on privately funded or sponsored trips. Major Peake is employed by the European Space Agency (Esa) & sports a Union flag on his sleeve.

During his six-month mission, called Principia in homage to Sir Isaac Newton's ground-breaking text on gravity & motion, he will participate in some 265 experiments & engage with schools around the UK.

The launch went off in spectacular fashion, assisted by Major Peake's two boys Thomas, six, & Oliver, four, who counted down to the moment the rocket roared into the air.

It took six hours for the tiny Soyuz TMA-19M to catch up with the space station, travelling at 17,500 mph 250 feet above the Earth.

Then there was a technical problem that meant Malenchenko had to steer the craft in manually, using a cross-hair targeting sight.

In the end the docking went smoothly & the Soyuz was firmly attached to the space station. The hatch was opened at 7.58pm, UK time.

Afterwards a smiling Rebecca said: "Tim looked so happy. He looked like he'd been there six months already.

"Today was better than I could have imagined. The launch was spectacular & it's rare to have a day-time launch. Everybody commented on how attractive it was."

She added: "I have say it was a relief this morning, once we knew he was up there & the solar arrays had opened & everything was nominal. It was, like, yep, that's it, they're on their way."

There were emotional scenes earlier when Major Peake's family & friends, including best man & former Army Air Corps buddy Ian Curry, waved goodbye to the astronaut.

Wearing his space suit, Major Peake pressed himself up against a window of the bus taking him to the launch pad & blew kisses & played fist bumps with his sons.

The Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh congratulated Major Peake on his arrival at the space station.

A statement published on the British Monarchy official Twitter account read: "Prince Philip & I are pleased to transmit our best wishes to Major Timothy Peake as he joins the International Space Station in orbit.

"We hope that Major Peake's work on the Space Station will serve as an inspiration to a new generation of scientists & engineers. The thoughts & prayers of the whole country are with him & the crew, especially at this time of year.

"We join with his friends & family in wishing him a productive mission & a safe return to Earth."