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Tim Peake welcomed aboard International Space Station

Major Tim Peake has become the first publicly-funded UK astronaut to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) after the Soyuz space capsule arrived successfully at its destination.

Mr Peake and his companions on the Principia space mission have emerged from the Soyuz capsule and joined their new co-workers on the International Space Station (ISS).

The first fully British astronaut to be sent into space, Major Peake, 43, Russian Commander Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Tim Kopra, have now joined the station's team of three for the next six months.

But the team will spend the rest of their first evening getting in touch with their families back on Earth and undergoing safety briefings, after enjoying their first meal together since lift off this morning.

Major Peake entered the station with a huge smile on his face as the full crew of six joined in front of the camera to listen to congratulatory messages from family members and space travel experts watching from the ESA in Baikonur.

The first to "step" on board the station, Major Peake said of the journey: "It was a beautiful launch," and added: "that sunrise was absolutely spectacular. We also got the benefit of a moon rise which was beautiful to see.

"To Europe and the UK, I hope you enjoyed the show."

His wife, Rebecca, said: "It was fantastic to watch that launch today. There were quite a few parties down on the ground, so your launch was well celebrated by everybody down here. Have a great mission. We love you."

His mother also kept her message to her son short and simple, saying: "Hello Tim. I think you would call today a spectacular day in the office. Everybody sends their love and we hope you have a wonderful time. Goodbye for now."

Bringing the conference to an end before continuing with his first evening on board ISS, Major Peake said: "Thank you very much and love down to everyone."

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have also congratulated Major Peake on his arrival at the ISS this evening.

A statement published on the British Monarchy official Twitter account read: "Prince Philip and I are pleased to transmit our best wishes to Major Timothy Peake as he joins the International Space Station in orbit.

"We hope that Major Peake's work on the Space Station will serve as an inspiration to a new generation of scientists and engineers. The thoughts and prayers of the whole country are with him and the crew, especially at this time of year.

"We join with his friends and family in wishing him a productive mission and a safe return to Earth."

The arrival of the three new crew members on to the ISS was more than half an hour behind schedule after they faced earlier difficulties when trying to dock the Soyuz capsule into the station's port.

A misalignment problem meant that Mr Malenchenko had to take manual control of the capsule, back away from the station and make a second approach. But the second attempt to dock, at a careful speed of 20-30 centimetres per second, was successful and barely 10 minutes behind schedule.

They blasted off in the Russian Soyuz TMA-19 capsule shortly after 11.00 GMT in Kazakhstan as they embarked on the six-hour journey through space.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-19 capsule, carrying Mr Peake, 43, Mr Malenchenko and Mr Kopra, docked at 17.33, six and a half hours after lift off at 11.03 GMT.

It spent just over 30 minutes completing its fly-around as the astronauts on-board made sure every part of the capsule was precisely aligned with the station, while travelling at a speed of 20-30 centimetres per second.

Tensions rose as there were difficulties in manoeuvring the capsule into position. Yuri took manual control and backed the capsule away before making a second attempt to re-align it with the station's docking port.

Prior to docking, the team had to catch up with the space station, which travels at 17,500mph at an average altitude of 220 miles.

Major Peake's mission, called Prinicipia in homage to Sir Isaac Newton's ground-breaking text on gravity and motion, will last almost six months.

Once in space, Major Peake and the other crew members moved from the cramped middle section of the Soyuz space capsule into the slightly more spacious spherical "orbital module" which attaches to the space station.

During the final approach, a docking probe on the end of the Soyuz was inserted into a cone on the ISS. The probe then retracted, bringing the two vehicles together, and a series of hooks and latches secured the capsule in place.

The capsule remains attached to serve as a "lifeboat" if the ISS has to be evacuated in the event of a major disaster, such as a fire or collision with space debris.

Previous "Brits in Space" have either been US citizens or had dual citizenship, or been on privately-funded or sponsored trips.

Major Peake is employed by the European Space Agency and sports a Union flag on his sleeve.

Background

By Claire Cromie

Short rendezvous

It required four orbits of Earth and roughly six hours to catch up with the ISS, but until two years ago the same journey took almost three days.

Since 2013, cosmonauts and astronauts have enjoyed faster, more comfortable trips, thanks to a procedure known as the "short rendezvous".

The shorter journey is achieved using a highly precise insertion of the vehicle into the correct orbit, coupled with digitally-controlled adjustment burns.

During the final approach, a docking probe on the end of the Soyuz will insert into a cone on the ISS. Once "capture" is confirmed, the probe retracts, bringing the two vehicles together. A series of hooks and latches then close over, securing the capsule in place.

Once a tight seal is confirmed, the air pressure in the Soyuz is equalised with that of the ISS and the hatch is opened, so the new arrivals can enter the station.

The capsule will remain attached to serve as a "lifeboat" if the ISS has to be evacuated in the event of a major disaster, such as a fire or collision with space debris.

'Hazardous' process

Although the departure appears to have gone smoothly, 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."

Once on board the ISS, the crew will be greeted by about a dozen pressurised modules, together roughly the same volume as two Boeing 747s, within which the crew work, sleep and exercise.

The station's design is geared towards functionality, rather than comfort - with the astronauts sleeping in bags hooked on to the walls instead of beds.

Washing is done with a sponge - there is no shower or bath - and, when every discarded particle is liable to float away, great care must be taken when cutting hair, clipping nails or shaving.

Food is freeze-dried and vacuum-packed and includes nothing liable to produce crumbs. Peanut butter has been described as the perfect space food.

ISS view

The Principia launch was also spotted from its ultimate destination - the ISS.

American astronaut Scott Kelly, currently on board the space station, could make out the Soyuz TMA as it began its approach and tweeted a picture of his view.

Family relieved

Footage from the BBC showed Major Peake's family watching him being blasted into orbit.

They joined in with the countdown, with the children visibly awed by the spectacle.

All three of them waved and his son yelled "Bye Daddy!" as the rocket hurtled through the sky.

Friends and relatives on the ground hugged each other with relief as the news that the craft had entered space came through.

Rebecca was heard to say: "Wasn't it an amazing sight? I had the biggest smile on my face."

At blast-off, the rocket generated 422.5 tonnes of thrust - equivalent to 26 million horse power.

Lift-off!

The space capsule lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11.03am UK time - officially bringing Britain into the space race.

Major Peake gave a huge grin, a triumphant fist pump and thumbs up as the Soyuz space capsule completed its first booster stage and the boosters fell away.

Major Peake and the crew will have experienced a feeling of weightlessness as they reached the third and final stage of launch before hitting orbit.

The so-called gravity indicator inside the capsule could be seen floating away in the on-board footage.

Songs chosen for lift-off wait

The ESA has tweeted a picture of Major Peake and Russian crew member Yuri Malenchenko in the Soyuz TMA spacecraft as it is pressurised and checked.

It appears to be quite a tight fit for the men, who are squashed in next to each other.

During this time before lift-off, the crew will distract themselves from the tense wait by listening to a playlist of music.

The three songs Major Peake chose were Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, U2's Beautiful Day, and Coldplay's A Sky Full Of Stars.

Six hour journey

After the Soyuz rocket takes off and reaches orbit in less than 10 minutes, the crew travel for six hours before reaching the ISS.

The space station goes around the Earth at 17,500mph (28,164kph) at an average altitude of 220 miles (354km).

But Professor Brian Cox warned that if the launch is miscalculated slightly, it could take about two days to dock.

Upon arrival, Major Peake and his crew will spend six months performing a variety of experiments and tests for researchers.

Among them will be a UK-designed test to check for problems suffered by astronauts - including visual complications and sickness - caused by increased brain pressure.

In total, he is expected to take part in 265 experiments.

Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain

Watching the build-up to the launch from the Science Museum in London were Professor Brian Cox and comedian Dara O'Briain.

Mr O'Briain told BBC Breakfast: "It's always part of the mission, to inspire the next generation and we'll have hundreds, I think a couple of thousands of school kids in the Science Museum with us when the launch occurs.

"It's a man sitting on top of a giant firework, being fired into space. The very moment of launch, I've been to one myself, is incredible - there's a kinetic oomph of that rocket taking off as it punches is way out of the Earth's gravity.

"It's always a spectacular sight."

Professor Cox added: "If just one or two of the school children here decide to be engineers or scientists or test pilots as a result of this mission, then it's going to be worth it."

Rocket man

Major Peake shared a private moment with family members from behind glass at Building 252, where they wished him farewell as he sat in his pressure suit.

The three space-suited astronauts then left to deliver the traditional salute to Cosmodrome officials and boarded the bus to the launch pad.

Smiling broadly, Major Peake waved to his sons from inside the bus, and gave them the thumbs up.

He has also been sent a message of encouragement from a fellow Rocket Man - albeit a slightly different one.

Elton John, who released the track Rocket Man in 1972, said on Twitter: "From one Rocket Man to another, good luck @astro_timpeake with your launch and mission!"

Good luck Tim!

Google has changed its homepage to include a "Good luck Tim!" message beneath its search bar, a slogan which has become a trending Twitter hashtag.

Its UK twitter feed added an additional message of support.

It said: "Wishing @astro_timpeake an amazing ride on #Principia today. And remember - suck on a sweet, your ears won't pop."

Blessing the rocket

There are a number of superstitions and traditions surrounding the take-off procedure.

A Russian orthodox priest walked around the 162ft (49m) high rocket which will carry Major Peake into space, sprinkling holy water on its fuselage and boosters and muttering prayers.

The blessing of the rocket is a tradition that dates back to the mid-1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Major Peake and his crew were also pictured this morning receiving a blessing before they left for the rocket.

Less conventionally, as they travel to the launch pad by bus, crew members jump off to urinate on the wheels.

Although this has never been witnessed by anyone outside an inner circle of astronauts, the tradition is said to have been started by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin.

Last tweet

Ahead of the historic take-off, Major Peake sent a final tweet, giving the thumbs-up.

He said: "Last tweet before launch - GO for flight! Thanks for all the good luck messages - phenomenal support!"

He was pictured signing a door at the cosmonaut hotel, a tradition before departure. He then left to suit up.

Four-year-old son consoled

Well-wishers gathered waving Union flags, cheering and shouting "Go Tim" as Major Peake and his two crew companions departed from the Cosmonaut Hotel for the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

They included Major Peake's best man, former Army Air Corps pilot Ian Curry, 50, who said: "I'm hugely excited about the launch. For me it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a tremendously exciting thing and one of my best mates is on board. Tim and I are great mates, we've been pretty tight for 27 years."

Mr Curry, who now lives in Alabama in the US, revealed that the Peake family, including Major Peake's wife Rebecca, discussed whether being an astronaut was the right thing for Tim.

He said: "The family had a discussion about it and saw it as a big opportunity. They said, 'Go for it'. Rebecca's incredibly supportive and has been all the way through.

"Tim is an incredibly patient person. He maintains equilibrium terribly well. Things that would be too much for me, he just deals with."

It was all too much for one onlooker, Tim's youngest son Oliver, four. Sitting on the shoulders of his grandfather, Tim's father-in-law, he cried loudly, saying: "I want to go with Daddy."

He was consoled by his mother as he clutched a toy.

Yuri Gagarin

Major Peake and his crew mates waved and smiled before stepping on to the bus that will take them to the "suiting-up" building. There the trio will don their pressure suits before being transported to the launch pad.

As they were leaving, music was played - an old Russian song about a cosmonaut pining for home.

Later, the crew will salute the state commission - Cosmodrome officials - before being taken to Launch Pad 1 and climbing into the tiny Soyuz TMA-19 space capsule on top of the rocket.

It is the same historic spot Yuri Gagarin flew from to become the first man in space in 1961.

Major Peake is the first Briton to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). He is also the first fully British professional astronaut to be employed by a space agency.

Previous "Brits in space" have either been US citizens or had dual citizenship, or been on privately funded or sponsored trips.

Major Peake is employed by the European Space Agency (Esa) and sports a Union Flag on his sleeve.

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