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Rocky road for Tim Peake as UK astronaut pilots robot rover

Published 29/04/2016

Tim Peake said he was 'looking forward' to giving the rover a test drive
Tim Peake said he was 'looking forward' to giving the rover a test drive

Tim Peake has become the first person to manoeuvre a rover robot through a darkened, simulated Martian landscape while orbiting the Earth from space.

The British astronaut remotely controlled the explorer from aboard the International Space Station.

He piloted the rover through the Mars-like rocky hangar at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage.

But Major Peake did not have it all his own way. The vehicle briefly became stuck on a large fake rock and lost signal for around ten minutes during the pioneering experiment.

Under his guidance, the British-built Rover travelled around 20 metres (65ft) during the two-hour test, and entered a mocked-up darkened cave.

Loud applause and cheers from the control room at Airbus met the end of the experiment.

Dr Elie Allouis, mission and robot engineer, praised Major Peake's driving throughout the experiment as "measured" and "careful".

He said: "Tim found targets, avoided obstacles - almost all of them - and returned to the entrance of the cave."

Dr Allouis added that the team was "elated" with what they had learned during the experiment.

The ExoMars rover is slated for launch in 2018 and will take nine months to reach Mars, using parachutes to land safely on the surface.

The rover is nicknamed Bridget after 1960s' French movie star Brigitte Bardot.

Bridget weighs around 300kg and can travel at a maximum speed of 2cm per second on a flat surface.

Within the first 70 minutes of the experiment Bridget drove over several fake rocks, moving around 10-15 metres through the cave.

It was here that Major Peake hit his stumbling block, as the rover struggled to drive over a small boulder and became stuck.

A loss of signal between the Stevenage base and the ISS meant the astronaut lost control of Bridget for around ten minutes whilst Airbus and European Space Agency engineers inspected the vehicle.

It will be the first rover sent to Mars specifically designed to find evidence of past or present life.

Following the experiment, Major Peake tweeted: "Great fun driving Bridget and great work by all the #METERON teams in UK, Belgium and Germany!"

Earlier, Science Minister Jo Johnson explored "Mars" for himself and praised the British astronaut for "inspiring hundreds of thousands if not millions" of young people into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through his work from aboard the ISS.

Major Peake blasted into space last December and into the record books the following month after becoming the first British person to walk in space.

Since arriving on the International Space Station, the former Army officer has sent a number of video messages back to earth, and last week ran the London Marathon using an on-board treadmill.

The European Space Agency astronaut is also conducting a series of experiments on himself to help scientists understand the impact of space flight on the human body, to help in future missions to Mars.

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From Belfast Telegraph