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Britain's first astronaut was Army helicopter pilot in Northern Ireland

By John von Radowitz

Published 07/12/2015

Tim Peake
Astronaut Tim Peake
An Army helicopter during the Troubles
The International Space Station

Britain's first official astronaut, Tim Peake, is a former platoon commander and helicopter pilot who served in Northern Ireland, it has emerged.

Major Peake is currently in Kazakhstan counting down the days to his historic journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 15.

The run-up to the launch is being spent setting up experiments, having medical check-ups and physical training, and reviewing flight plans.

During this time Major Peake (43) and his two crew companions will minimise contact with others to avoid falling ill and bringing bacteria or viruses onto the space station.

He and Russian crew commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra will spend almost six months aboard the ISS, which orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 220 miles.

Major Peake is the first Briton to be employed as a professional astronaut by the European Space Agency (Esa).

Previous "British" astronauts have had US citizenship and worked for Nasa, or been privately funded or sponsored.

Major Peake graduated in 1992 aged 20 from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as an officer in the Army Air Corps.

He was on attachment with the Royal Green Jackets as a platoon commander in Northern Ireland.

He was awarded his Army Flying Wings in 1994 and for the next four years served as a reconnaissance pilot and flight commander.

His postings also included Germany, the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, Kenya and Canada.

In just over a week a Soyuz FG rocket will blast Major Peake and his fellow travellers into orbit in under 10 minutes.

But it will take six hours for them to catch up with the space station, hurtling through space at 17,500 mph.

For the launch the crew will be squeezed into the tiny seven-foot-long "descent module".

Once in space they will move to the "orbital module" which attaches to the ISS.

Major Peake's mission, named Principia after Sir Isaac Newton's text on the laws of gravity and motion, will see him conduct around 30 experiments with an emphasis on education and outreach.

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