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Parents' pride as astronaut Tim Peake prepares for lift-off

Published 13/12/2015

The rocket is positioned on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome
The rocket is positioned on the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome
The Soyuz FG rocket is moved to the launch pad by train
Up it rocket goes into position for blast off
British astronaut Tim Peake will be launched into space on Tuesday

Tim Peake's father has spoken of his pride after watching the Russian rocket that will carry his astronaut son into space being lifted onto its launch pad.

Nigel Peake and his wife Angela stood yards away from the 162-ft long Soyuz FG rocket as it was slowly manoeuvred into position ready for blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Mr Peake, from Chichester, said: "We're immensely proud. As you can imagine, it's quite surreal to think you're the father of an astronaut, especially a British astronaut. So we're very, very proud, and just a little bit over-awed by the whole operation."

He added: "We're not worried at all. We've been following his training and know how thorough it is, so we don't have any fears. I'm more worried about him driving home on the M27. That's far more dangerous, believe me, than going up there."

Major Peake, 43, will be launched into space on Tuesday at the start of an historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

He will be the first 100% British professional astronaut to leave the Earth.

Previous "Brits in space" have either had US or dual citizenship and worked for the American space agency Nasa, or been on privately funded or sponsored trips.

The father-of-two, a former Army aviator and helicopter test pilot, is employed by the European Space Agency (Esa) and sports a Union Jack on his sleeve.

Travelling with him in a tiny Soyuz TMA space capsule will be Russian crew commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra.

They are scheduled to spend almost six months aboard the space station, which orbits the Earth at an average altitude of 220 miles.

"Roll-out" of the three-stage rocket took place just as the sun began to rise over the bitingly cold and snow-frosted Kazakhstan steppe desert.

Laid on its side, the 305 tonne metal leviathan was hauled out of its assembly hangar by a powerful diesel locomotive and shunted along five kilometres (3.1 miles) of railway track to the launch complex.

There, the rocket was carefully lifted to its vertical launch position by a hydraulic ram.

The grey, white and orange machine looked somewhat unreal - a scaled-up version of a Thunderbirds model.

Watching was a large crowd of TV crews and photographers from all over the world, as well as VIP guests such as Mr and Mrs Peake.

Onlookers were allowed surprisingly close to the rocket despite high levels of security.

Every inch of the track was checked ahead of the train while a circling helicopter lit up the ground with a bright search light.

Now and then the train would announce its progress with a toot.

One visitor, planetary scientist Professor Monica Grady, from the Open University, said: "It was totally awesome. I liked the way it hooted.

"It came out on the dot of 7am - rocket scientists know how to do it."

It will take six hours for the space capsule carrying Major Peake and his companions to catch up with the ISS, travelling at 17,500 mph.

Docking with the space station is one of the trickiest stages of the journey. The whole process is automatic, controlled by computer, but can be carried out manually if required.

Speaking before the launch, Major Peake said: "Any time two vehicles come in close proximity in space is hazardous.

"The docking needs to be closely monitored and you have to make sure you're on target and on speed."

His mission, called "Principia" in homage to Sir Isaac Newton's ground-breaking text on gravity and motion, is symbolic of a turn-around in the UK Government's attitude to manned space flight.

For decades it refused to have anything to do with human missions, preferring to focus on satellites and robot probes.

Then, in 2012, Britain agreed to start contributing funds to Esa's ISS programme.

Whether or not this made any difference to Major Peake's selection for the current mission, officially designated Expedition 46/47, is open to speculation.

During his time aboard the space station,Major Peake will participate in 265 experiments, and observe the effects of microgravity on his own body.

He will also contribute to the day-to-day maintenance of the space station's life support, power and communications systems. This could involve taking space walks, as well as more down-to-Earth activities such as fixing the 15-year-old suction toilets.

In April he will run the entire 26.2 mile London Marathon on a treadmill aboard the space station.

The first Briton in space was former chemist Helen Sharman who visited the Mir space station in May 1991. Her trip was made possible by a private programme called Project Juno, and paid for jointly by the USSR and a consortium of British companies.

Major Peake is currently being kept apart from his family during the two week quarantine period designed to prevent any chance of infection spreading to the space station.

He and the other crew members are staying at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, which traditionally provides lodging for astronauts. His wife Rebecca, two boys Thomas, six, and Oliver, four, and other members of his family have accommodation elsewhere in the city.

Only Rebecca is being allowed very limited access to her husband. Everyone else has to communicate with him across a glass partition at the Cosmonaut.

He will also be behind glass when the crew appear at a press conference on Monday.

The family will have a final private moment with Major Peake - still under quarantine rules - about two hours before the 11.03am launch, prior to the crew departing by bus from the "suiting up" building.

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