Elon Musk could help us get to Mars early, says Major Tim Peake

Humans could be exploring Mars earlier than previously thought thanks to the ambitions of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, British astronaut Tim Peake has said.

Musk's Falcon Heavy launch marked a new era of space exploration which is "very, very exciting", Major Peake said.

He said that government space agencies have estimated that humans will land on Mars in the late 2030s but commercial space flight "could bring that date forward".

The 45-year-old, who completed his mission working on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016, was speaking at an event to raise money for the Aerobility charity.

The charity, which enables people with disabilities to learn how to fly an aircraft, and British Airways organised a special charter flight to enable passengers to see the Northern Lights at the northern edge of UK airspace.

Passengers on the British Airways Airbus A320 caught a glimpse of the elusive phenomenon just off the coast of the Shetland Isles on Saturday night.

Maj Peake, a former helicopter test pilot, said he was surprised how many times he got to see the aurora while on his mission to the ISS.

"I thought I might see the aurora three or four times in a six-month trip, as it happens we saw the aurora three or four times a week," he said.

The aurora borealis, or the northern lights (Owen Humphreys/PA)
The aurora borealis, or the northern lights (Owen Humphreys/PA)

On the future of space exploration, Maj Peake said: "I don't know how many people saw Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy launch. We are entering this new era of space exploration which is very, very exciting."

He added: "The Deep Space Gateway will probably start to be built in 2022. That's what I'm really looking forward to because that paves the way for both lunar landings and, because of the orbit it [will be] in, that paves the way for [a] Mars transportation system."

Maj Peake, the first British astronaut to be sent to the ISS by the European Space Agency,
continued: "Humans on Mars - I think will be late 2030s. That's what the government space agencies and the International Space Exploration Group are working towards.

"What could throw a big bowling ball through all that is commercial space flight - we have seen the ambitions of people like Elon Musk, there are several other companies that also have ambitions to send people to Mars.

Falcon Heavy side cores have landed at SpaceX's Landing Zones 1 and 2. pic.twitter.com/oMBqizqnpI

-- SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 6, 2018

"I think that we will end up working very closely with these companies in public private partnerships when we eventually go to Mars.

"It could be that some of those programmes bring that date forward.

"But late 2030s would be a realistic time frame."

Captain Ian Mills, who operated the aurora flight, said: "We're incredibly proud to be able to support this special charter flight and we are delighted that we've played a part in helping raise money for a fantastic cause."

Mike Miller-Smith, chief executive of Aerobility, added: "We're so pleased so many of our backers have been able to tick this experience off their bucket list."

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