UK must keep supporting manned space flight, says Tim Peake


British astronaut Tim Peake has taken one small step into the world of astro-politics by urging the Government not to stop supporting manned space flight.

Speaking from the International Space Station, Major Peake said it was "vitally important" for the UK to stay involved with human missions.

A decision will be taken at the next European Space Agency (ESA) ministerial council in Lucerne, Switzerland, in December.

If the UK pulls the plug on its contribution to ESA's manned space programme it is unlikely the agency will send any more British astronauts into space.

Britain became part of the programme for the first time after agreeing to donate funds at a ministerial meeting in 2012. This was followed by a further pledge at the last of the biennial meetings in 2014.

In total Britain has contributed £49.2 million through the UK Space Agency.

Major Peake, who was taking part in an ITV News question and answer session streamed on Facebook, said: "It was ground-breaking for the UK to join the human space flight programme in 2012 at the European Space Agency ministerial (meeting).

"I certainly hope that this will pave the way for the UK's continual involvement in human space flight. I think it's vitally important. What we're doing now is we're looking ahead not just to the International Space Station which has a life out to 2024, maybe slightly longer, but we're looking at lunar exploration missions and going to Mars as well.

"The UK needs to be involved right now if it wants to play a serious role in human space flight missions into the future."

Major Peake, who has lived and worked on the space station for almost six months, is due to return to Earth on June 18.

Responding to other questions, he described the "remarkable" mission as a "dream come true".

"The whole experience has been everything I hoped for and even more," he said. "No words can really describe what it's like to experience a rocket launch, to go into space and see that first sunrise as you orbit the planet."

But he confessed there were some aspects of life in space he would not miss, such as artificial lighting and the constant hum of air conditioning systems.

He was looking forward to being "out in the fresh air" back on Earth.

The most hazardous parts of the mission were the launch, performing a space walk, and the landing, said Major Peake.

"The landing is definitely not a trivial event," he added. 

But he was looking forward to what most astronauts describe as "a really good ride".