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Astronaut Tim Peake hopes to inspire new generation of space explorers

Published 06/11/2015

British astronaut Tim Peake poses beside a spacesuit as he talks to UK media at the Science Museum in London
British astronaut Tim Peake poses beside a spacesuit as he talks to UK media at the Science Museum in London
British astronaut Tim Peake is blasting off for the International Space Station next month

Britain's first official European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut hopes the legacy of his mission will be to inspire a new generation to enter a career linked to space exploration.

And he said there was nothing to stop British children of today becoming the first people to set foot on Mars.

In a little over five weeks, 43-year-old Tim Peake will embark on a six-month stint on the International Space Station (ISS), leaving Earth on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

At his final pre-flight press conference at the Science Museum in London, the former military test pilot spoke highly of his rigorous training, and insisted he was only nervous about forgetting something.

Mr Peake said: "On launch day, of course there's going to be some apprehension."

"You're sat on top of 300 tonnes of fuel and you're basically just going to be focused on the mission and what's to come.

"It's important to say goodbye to friends and family and just draw a line and really focus on the mission ahead."

A key aspect of the mission's link to the UK will be to engage with every school in the country and offer lessons about Mr Peake's work.

He will not only take part in a series of experiments - some calling on him to become a "guinea pig" to research asthma, the immune system and the ageing process - but engage with the public through social media.

Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said it was a truly proud moment for the UK and the Government was eager to fully exploit the potential education benefits.

He said: "This is our moonshot moment as a country."

Mr Peake will follow in the footsteps of Helen Sharman, who travelled to space in 1991 on a privatel-funded venture.

He believed there had been a decline in interest in the key industries from youngsters because of the UK's lack of visible human space flight programs.

But his advice to aspiring astronauts is simple: "You have to just take every step as it comes, and you have to do what you're passionate about and what you want to do."

He added: "I left school at 18 and decided to become a pilot. Many people may have said at the time that was a bad choice - that you should be going to university, you should be getting a higher education."

"For me, it worked out great - it was what I wanted to do, it was what I was passionate about - and I was able to get a degree later in life."

"Sometimes, your career takes you through various different paths and you're not quite sure where you're going to end up."

Space missions, while valuable for research, also capture the imagination of spectators around the world - as demonstrated by the popular YouTube videos of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

But unlike Col Hadfield, Mr Peake said he will not be performing any David Bowie covers.

He said: "I don't think I'm at the stage where I'm prepared to unleash that on the worldwide audience."

The thing he will miss the most is fresh air and spending time with his family.

Mr Peake also announced today he would become the latest ambassador for the Prince's Trust.

Thomas Reiter, ESA Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations, said international cooperation was at the heart of the agency.

He said: "Without it most of the programmes we benefit from today, whether they are public or private, would not be possible."

He added: "Apart from using this platform for scientific research, it will be also used in the future to further develop our capabilities, our technologies to go beyond lower Earth orbit."

Mr Peake said that presented an exciting, if distant, possibility for any young person watching his mission from Earth.

"There's nothing to stop the school kids in Great Britain today from being the first people to step foot on Mars in the future," he said.

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