UK astronaut Tim Peake in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, ready to climb into the Soyuz capsule

Tim Peake blasts off for six-month space station mission

Tim Peake, the first UK government-funded astronaut, has blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan en route to the International Space Station (ISS) for his six-month Principia mission.

Flying under the flag of the European Space Agency (ESA), the Chichester-born former helicopter test pilot is a member of expedition 47. He is sharing a ride in a Soyuz space capsule with American astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

The three will join Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Korniyenko, both currently more than halfway through their ground-breaking one-year space stay. The third astronaut currently at the ISS is Russian Sergey Alexandrovich Volkov.

The capsule with Peake and his co-travellers took off as planned atop the Soyuz rocket shortly after 11am GMT.

The spacecraft is expected to perform its "short rendezvous" that will bring the capsule to dock with the ISS in approximately six hours, instead of the previous requirement of three days.

The manoeuvre involves an extremely precise insertion of the vehicle into the correct orbit, coupled with digitally controlled adjustment burns.

Peake’s Soyuz is scheduled to reach the orbital outpost at the altitude of 400km at 17.23 GMT.

During his Principia mission,Peake will engage in a plethora of scientific experiments and outreach activities designed to boost interest in space and science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines among the younger generation.

One of the outreach projects will involve conducting experiments designed by students and school children using two modified Raspberry Pi computers

While in space, Peake will also join the London marathon to raise awareness of the Prince’s Trust.

Peake has lent his body to 23 biomedical experiments focusing on cardiovascular health, bone density and muscle wastage and even things like asthma and cancer.

He will also conduct experiments using the space station’s electromagnetic levitator to help develop new better materials for the aerospace industry.

There were emotional scenes today as British astronaut Tim Peake said goodbye to family and friends before setting off to be launched into space.

Well-wishers gathered waving Union flags, cheering and shouting "Go Tim" as Major Peake and his two crew companions departed from the Cosmonaut Hotel for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

They included Major Peake's best man, former Army Air Corps pilot Ian Curry, 50, who said: "I'm hugely excited about the launch. For me it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a tremendously exciting thing and one of my best mates is on board. Tim and I are great mates, we've been pretty tight for 27 years."

Although Peake is the first Briton to have his ticket to space funded by the UK government through the membership in the European Space Agency, the 43-year-old is not the first British space-human. That honour belongs to Helen Sharman, who spent a week on Russian space station Mir in 1991 as part of a project financed by British companies.

Peake is also not the first UK citizen to set foot on the ISS. However, he is the first to achieve this without also being in possession of a US passport.

Read E&T's exclusive interview with Tim Peake

British astronaut Tim Peake prepares for six months in space

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