Astronaut Tim Peake: Life in space is absolutely spectacular

Major Tim Peake described life in space as "way beyond his expectations" and "absolutely spectacular" as he spoke to journalists back on Earth just days after he arrived at the International Space Station (ISS).

Major Peake, the first fully British professional astronaut, docked at the ISS at around 5.30pm on Tuesday after launching from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz FG rocket, accompanied by Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra.

The 43-year-old initially settled into life in space with some Earthly comforts of tea and a bacon sandwich, describing his first hour and 48 minutes aboard the ISS as "busy but incredible".

Answering questions from journalists at the European Astronaut Centre near Cologne, Germany, a grinning Major Peake said: "It is way better than I imagined. It is actually really hard to describe.

"The whole ride into space on the Soyuz rocket, what a phenomenal machine, so powerful, such a smooth launch, and then arrival on board the International Space Station and adapting to this weightless environment and being able to go to the cupola and look at that amazing view of planet Earth, it is way beyond my expectations."

Occasionally letting go of his microphone to allow it to float in the zero-gravity environment, Major Peake said the first 24 hours had been "pretty rough".

But he was surprised how quickly his body adapted to life on board and being weightless.

"Every time you turn a corner or move your head, looking up and down, left and right, your ears send signals to the brain that do not really match your eyes, so your brain is trying to work out the two differences. So you do feel disorientated and dizzy. But I have been amazed at how quickly the body has adapted.

"On my second day I woke up feeling fresh, ready to go to work, and I have had no problems since."

The former Army aviator and helicopter test pilot will spend six months at the ISS, carrying out dozens of experiments for researchers on Earth as he orbits the planet at 28,800km per hour.

Describing space life as "absolutely spectacular", he said he and his fellow astronauts would be busy over the coming weeks with their science programme and preparing for potential space walks.

Major Peake may have the opportunity to carry out a space walk, saying that he was looking forward to the chance "more so than ever".

He said: "When I went to the cupola yesterday and I watched both a sunset and a sunrise at different times, looking outside of the space station is so incredible.

"To think that you might actually be able to be out there on a space walk when that happens is going to be the most incredible sensation ever."

He will miss Christmas with his wife Rebecca and sons Thomas, six, and Oliver, four, next week but said he would have plenty of chances to "see" them as he continually orbits the planet.

And he and his colleagues will not completely miss out on the festivities after a Christmas pudding was sent to the space station.

He said: "Christmas Day is always a time to kind of reflect on friends and family and the future. Up here obviously we have got a job to do and we will be working, I suspect, for some of that time as well.

"But I will definitely be taking time out to call friends and family, and what a wonderfully unique place to call people from on Christmas Day."

Major Peake was due to pass over the south of England at around 4pm today, saying he would use the opportunity to send Christmas messages to people at home.

Dressed in a blue polo shirt with the number 46 on - the number of the Principia mission - and with a European Space Agency flag in the background, he described his astonishment at seeing space itself.

He said: "The most unexpected thing I think was the blackness of space. We always talk about seeing the view of planet Earth and how beautiful it is and so you come to expect that.

"But what people don't mention that much is just when you look the opposite direction and you see how dark space is. It is just the blackest black and you realise just how small the Earth is in that blackness. That was a real surprise to me."

Major Peake was asked a question by two six-year-old schoolchildren from Grimsby, who wanted to know how he had a shower.

He said: "We are showering with just wet flannels. We heat them up by a portable water dispenser. We can put some hot water in that soapy flannel and then we basically have a body wash.

"It is a little bit like camping for six months, you keep yourself clean as best you can. We have got special shampoo so we can wash our hair without having to rinse it with water."

He also likened zero-gravity to the "the first time I put on a pair of skis", but was adapting quickly to weightlessness.

He said: "It does take a while to become proficient, and it also takes a while to get orientated. Quite often you will be working in the roof and you'll suddenly just lose your sense of direction, but it is amazing how quickly your brain adapts to that.

"I think within about another week I'll be extremely comfortable working in this environment."

Asked if he had mastered the famous zero-gravity somersault, Major Peake said "definitely not" - before attempting a slightly wonky backwards rotation, to a round of applause from the journalists.

He added: "Practise makes perfect - give me another week."

Major Peake said he has been fortunate in that he was enjoying sleeping, which can be a challenge in space, explaining that he has not been tying his sleeping bag down.

He said: "I actually quite enjoy just floating around the crew quarter. You are not going to go anywhere, it is very small, so you might occasionally bounce off a wall, but it's a very gentle nudge."

Atmospheric conditions aboard the space station are not dissimilar to those on Earth, he said, with the same temperature, pressure and humidity, but 10 times the level of carbon dioxide.

The major said he was "delighted" to find that tea in space tasted "surprisingly good". He also revealed the space station had a distinctive smell, "kind of metallic, but not chemically or bad in any way".

Asked how he keeps fit in space, Major Peake said: "Our first sports session is going to be this afternoon, we have a cycling machine, a running machine and a weightlifting machine.

"Working out up here is a chance to listen to some music, to really get some good exercise - you feel like you want to exercise because all this time up here you are floating and your muscles are relaxed.

"You do feel like you want to get on to a bike or a running machine and do some work."

He will used the treadmill for the first time over the weekend, and over the coming months will train so that he can run April's London Marathon in space.

Major Peake has received a massive amount of support from people all around the world, even getting a message on Twitter from the Queen.

He said: "It was absolutely astounding, and as I said I kind of felt a bit isolated with all of this - once I got on board the station people were telling me, 'Hey, did you realise you had a tweet from Her Majesty?' and I was absolutely blown away.

"It is a huge honour to receive that and I am so glad that so many people across the UK have been enthused by this mission, and certainly I am so glad that so many of the children have enjoyed it.

"I would like to say a huge thank you of course to everybody who has supported me throughout this mission."

And while he gets stuck into life a few hundred miles from Earth, Major Peake said he and his fellow astronauts are yet to enjoy a galaxy far, far away, but will hopefully watch the new Star Wars film on Monday.

He said: "We are very excited about the Star Wars movie, we are all fans up here. A little bit later than everybody else, but what a spectacular place to watch Star Wars."

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