Page last updated at 08:25 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 09:25 UK

'Space Brits' come face to face

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Tim Peake and Michael Foale (Robin McKie)
Tim Peake met Michael Foale at the Kennedy Space Center

It was a moment to savour for UK space enthusiasts - a meeting between Britain's new astronaut candidate Tim Peake and Michael Foale.

UK-born Dr Foale became a US citizen to pursue his orbital dream; and has subsequently become one of the most experienced astronauts in the business.

He congratulated Major Peake on his selection and urged Britain to play a greater role in human spaceflight.

"Major Tim" starts his training with the European Space Agency next month.

Esa has taken Britain seriously, now Britain must take Britain seriously
Michael Foale, Nasa astronaut

His selection by Esa in May was viewed by many as something of a surprise because British governments do not subscribe to the Paris-based agency's human spaceflight programme, and only those nations that do have traditionally been granted European astronaut positions.

Dr Foale, who has frequently urged his birth nation to change its space policy, described Major Peake's appointment as "fantastic".

"Esa has taken Britain seriously, now Britain must take Britain seriously," he told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center, where Europe's newest astronaut recruits have been on a tour of America's famous spaceport.

"My advice to him is simply to enjoy it, to lap it up," Dr Foale said.

"My attitude to this is to show enthusiasm for what we're doing; and what we're doing is big - leaving the planet, exploring, doing research in space. It's big for the country; it's big for the children; it's big for the future.

"Britain's exploration history is huge. It stops somewhere in the middle of the last century and I would like to see it pick up again; and I think Tim represents that."

Esa astronauts (BBC)
Tim Peake is part of a new intake of Esa astronauts

Major Peake, a former helicopter pilot in the Army Air Corps, will become the "UK's first official astronaut in space" when he finally gets into orbit. All the other British-born individuals who have launched previously have done so either under the US flag (like Dr Foale) or on privately funded programmes.

He was thrilled to meet Michael Foale.

"He's been a huge inspiration to me and to many others," said Major Peake.

"He has a huge wealth of experience and, like many of the other astronauts, he is somebody who I would like to learn a lot from and put that to good use in the future," he told BBC News.

Michael Foale is a veteran of long duration missions on both Mir and the International space stations. His cumulative time in orbit of more than 370 days makes him one of the most experienced astronauts in the history of human spaceflight.

He was born in Louth, Lincolnshire, and went to school in Kent. He studied at Cambridge University before moving to the US.

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