Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 19:37 UK

It's ground control to Major Tim

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

Timothy Peake
He was picked from 8,400 applicants - 10% of whom were Britons

Army test pilot Timothy Peake says he is still in a state of shock after he was named as one of Europe's six new astronauts, fulfilling his childhood dream.

The 37-year-old says he is "privileged" and "amazed" to be given the prospect of a spaceflight - just don't ask him to say that in Russian.

Army Air Corps pilot Maj Peake was only told of his selection into Europe's official band of astronauts on Monday.

Like millions of children before him, he had harboured dreams of space exploration from an early age.

"I had a boyhood dream like many people but the reality always sort of holds you back," he said.

'Ultimate dream'

"You think it will never come true, so in my case I'm obviously extremely fortunate that it has - I'm in a very privileged position."

Maj Peake's acceptance in the European Space Agency's (Esa) Astronaut Corps makes him Britain's first astronaut within the agency.

Sheffield-born chemist Helen Sharman was the first Briton to actually make it into orbit in 1991 after securing private funding to fly to the Mir space station on a Russian Soyuz craft.

Training will include becoming fluent in Russian, which for me at the moment is the most daunting prospect
Maj Peake

Maj Peake has been chosen for missions to the International Space Station (ISS) alongside two Italians, a Frenchman, a German, and a Dane.

Any spaceflight would be rewarding, he says, but the "ultimate dream" would be a mission to the Moon.

"Yes, that would be the ultimate dream to be involved in lunar exploration but the objectives.... are very challenging and it would be rewarding to be involved in any spaceflight," he said.

The married recent father said Esa had guaranteed seven flights between now and 2020, which was also the life expectancy of the ISS.

'Daunting prospect'

Science minister Lord Drayson has "high expectations" Maj Peake would actually go up in space and said his appointment was a great day for Britain.

He was chosen from around 8,400 applicants - around 800 of whom were Britons - after a rigorous selection process.

"I've always been heavily involved in aviation and the space industry and had a keen interest certainly as an Army pilot and recently as a test pilot," he said.

Major Timothy Peake
Maj Peake has seen active service in Bosnia and recently in Afghanistan

"When I saw that Esa was having a selection process I saw this as a wonderful opportunity... to be part of a team that really can have a positive impact on society.

"My earliest space memory was really watching documentaries about the Apollo missions and the Hubble telescope.

"I was interested in films like The Right Stuff, I watched that many times and found it very inspiring."

Philip Kaufman's account of the early days of the space race was released in 1983 when Maj Peake was 11 years old.

The spaceman, who hails from Chichester, says his 18-month basic astronaut training begins on 1 September followed by mission-specific training once he is assigned to a task.

'Based on merit'

But he admitted his language barrier was causing him concern.

"Training will include becoming fluent in Russian, which for me at the moment is the most daunting prospect," he said.

Maj Peake, who lives in Salisbury, Wiltshire, has been in the armed forces for 18 years and flies mainly Apache helicopters.

Europe's six new astronauts
Maj Peake and his new colleagues will train to fly to the space station

He started flying in 1994, became a helicopter instructor four years later and has been a test pilot since 2005, notching up more than 3,000 flying hours.

He has also seen active service as a platoon commander with The Royal Green Jackets in Northern Ireland as well as in Bosnia in 1996 and recently as a test pilot in Afghanistan.

He married Rebecca nine years ago and has a four-month-old son Thomas.

"My family has been incredibly supportive throughout the process, they are thrilled and excited," he said.

So, too, is Lord Drayson who said he hoped the appointment would raise the profile of the British space industry and inspire a generation.

Maj Peake's appointment comes despite the fact that Britain does not contribute financially to any manned missions to the ISS, making it difficult for Britons to get into orbit.

It prefers to fund robotic and unmanned exploration instead but, as Lord Drayson points out, is still the fourth largest contributor to the European Space Agency.

Maj Peake said: "I was selected based on merit and Esa's principles to have a team concentrated on expertise and diversity."

What message does he have for today's children?

"Follow your dreams. For me it's a dream come true, it's an incredibly privileged position," he said.

"Hopefully it will be an inspiration to people in the UK and across Europe".

Print Sponsor

Understanding the UK's space 'anomaly'
20 May 09 |  Science & Environment
Meet Europe's new astronauts
20 May 09 |  Science & Environment
Esa unveils six new astronauts
20 May 09 |  Europe
Space station module handed over
16 May 09 |  Science & Environment
European prepares to command ISS
07 May 09 |  Science & Environment
Europe expects busy year in space
14 Jan 09 |  Science & Environment
Europe's 10bn-euro space vision
26 Nov 08 |  Science & Environment
'No bias' against UK astronauts
08 May 08 |  Science & Environment

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific