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I'd go back in a heartbeat, says astronaut Tim Peake after spectacular return home

By John von Radowitz

Published 22/06/2016

Tim Peake
Tim Peake
Tim Peake’s capsule after landing in Kazakhstan
Astronaut Tim Peake is carried away
Tim Peake at his press conference yesterday

British astronaut Tim Peake has given a vivid account of his "really exciting ride" back to Earth and said he would return to space "in a heartbeat".

Speaking at his first press conference at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, since leaving the International Space Station (ISS) and landing in Kazakhstan on Saturday, he told how he was "feeling fantastic".

Major Peake described a series of adrenaline-pumping events, including his tiny Soyuz capsule "tumbling" in space, watching a pyrotechnic display of sparks and flames during the fiery descent through the Earth's atmosphere, and the sensation of "falling back to Earth" as the building G-force pushed him back in his seat.

He also spoke of his "dream" of going to the Moon, his hope that the UK continues to fund manned space missions - and his relief at using a gravity-assisted toilet at last.

The 44-year-old father-of-two returned to Earth from a six-month European Space Agency mission on the ISS with American Nasa astronaut Colonel Tim Kopra and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

Their "descent module" - the only part of the three-section Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft to complete the journey - parachuted down on to a remote spot on the vast Kazakhstan steppe at 10.15am UK time on Saturday.

Former helicopter test pilot Major Peake said one of the most "dynamic" moments came after undocking, when the still-orbiting Soyuz was blasted apart with explosive bolts.

Major Peake said: "The spacecraft really does blow itself apart, which is really quite exciting... these pyrotechnic bolts are only a few millimetres of metal away from your ear when they go off."

During separation, the crew sit in the descent module, which is just over 6ft across.

The two other sections of the Soyuz are discarded and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere. From then on the capsule "tumbled" high above Earth as the crew waited to enter the atmosphere, said Major Peake.

As it shot through the atmosphere, the craft's heat shield slowed it from 17,398mph to 514mph and raised the outside temperature to a scorching 1,600C.

The British astronaut said he was treated to a firework display as he looked out of the window beside his head.

He added: "It's great being sat next to the window because you're able to look out ... I started seeing sparks and flames coming off because all the multi-layer insulation around the spacecraft is burning away. Again, it was very exciting to see that."

And describing the plunge Earthwards, the astronaut explained: "You're at almost 100km and I looked out the window, having spent six months watching planet Earth from 400km in a very controlled attitude.

"To look out the window and see Earth approaching at 100km in what looked like a fairly uncontrolled attitude was really quite surprising. You get a very strong sensation that you are just falling back to the planet."

Major Peake looked well and relaxed at the press conference, in contrast to the first minutes and hours after landing when he was unable to walk unaided.

He said re-adjusting to Earth had been harder and taken longer than adapting to life in space, but added: "I'm feeling fantastic."

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