Tim Peake retires as an astronaut


British spaceman Tim Peake has announced his retirement as an astronaut.

The 50-year-old from Chichester, who in 2016 carried out the first ever spacewalk by an ‘official’ British astronaut, said it had been ‘the most extraordinary experience’ but that he would now be assuming an ambassadorial role for space.

A former British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot, Major Peake was selected as a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut in 2009 and spent six months onboard the International Station Station between 2015 and 2016.

He was Britain’s first ever government-funded astronaut and the first person since Helen Sharman in 1991 to wear the Union flag in space.

Tim Peake, Britain's first ever government-funded astronaut, has retired from active duty with the European Space Agency (ESA)

Tim Peake, Britain’s first ever government-funded astronaut, has retired from active duty with the European Space Agency (ESA)

Major Peake was Britain's first ever government-funded astronaut and the first person since Helen Sharman in 1991 to wear the Union flag in space

Major Peake was Britain’s first ever government-funded astronaut and the first person since Helen Sharman in 1991 to wear the Union flag in space 

TIM PEAKE BIO

Born: April 7, 1972 in Chichester

Age: 50

Joined ESA: 2009

Flew to ISS: 2015-2016

Time in space: 185 days 22 hours 11 minutes

EVAs, or spacewalks, completed: 1

Total EVA time: 4 hours, 43 minutes 

Previous occupation: British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot

Studied at: University of Portsmouth 

Family: Wife Rebecca and two sons

Major space achievements: 

– First ever British government-funded astronaut

– First ever spacewalk by an ‘official’ British astronaut

– First Briton to visit the International Space Station (ISS)

– Ran the London marathon on a treadmill while on the ISS

‘Being an ESA astronaut has been the most extraordinary experience,’ Major Peake said.

‘I have had the privilege of working with an exceptional team of dedicated individuals during the past thirteen years with the agency, which has been incredibly exciting and rewarding,’

‘By assuming the role of an ambassador for human spaceflight, I shall continue to support ESA and the UK Space Agency, with a focus on educational outreach, and I look forward to the many exciting opportunities ahead.’

Major Peake has been doing ambassadorial work for space and science alongside ESA and the UK Space Agency since 2019, but will now take up the role full-time.

It ends any chance of him going to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis missions, the first of which blasted off at the end of last year.

The UK, as an ESA member state, is involved with the Artemis programme and will be supplying equipment for a new lunar space station, called Lunar Gateway.

NASA hopes that Artemis III, due to launch in 2025, will land the first woman and first person of colour on the moon. 

While US space agency officials were in Britain for talks in July last year, they hinted that there would be a future astronaut spot on Artemis for one of its ‘international partners’.

This prompted speculation that Major Peake might have an opportunity to become the oldest astronaut to walk on the lunar surface, but if a UK astronaut is to do so it will now not be him.

His decision to permanently step down from active astronaut duty comes just two months after ESA unveiled three more British citizens as new astronaut candidates.

They included John McFall, a former Paralympic sprinter who is the world’s first ever ‘parastronaut’, astrophysicist Rosemary Coogan and Meganne Christian. 

Northern Ireland-born Coogan is set to begin training in April, while McFall is joining a feasibility study to see if he can fly as a disabled astronaut. 

Christian was chosen as a reserve and could join ESA’s astronaut corps if someone else drops out.

During his six-month stint onboard the International Space Station from 2015-2016, Major Peake became the first person to complete a spacewalk while sporting a Union Jack on his shoulder, to repair part of the station’s supply. 

The former British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot was selected as a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut in 2009 and spent six months onboard the International Station Station between 2015 and 2016

The former British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot was selected as a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut in 2009 and spent six months onboard the International Station Station between 2015 and 2016

Major Peake has been doing ambassadorial work for space and science alongside ESA and the UK Space Agency since 2019, but will now take up the role full-time

Major Peake has been doing ambassadorial work for space and science alongside ESA and the UK Space Agency since 2019, but will now take up the role full-time

He controlled a rover remotely in the Stevenage Mars Yard, helped dock two spacecraft, ran the London marathon on a treadmill, and took part in scientific experiments for ESA and international partners.

Before returning to Earth in June of that year, Major Peake also worked with the UK Space Agency to engage more than two million schoolchildren across the UK – approximately one in three schools – in over 30 projects.

He was the second UK citizen to fly to space after Sharman, who went to the Mir space station in 1991 on a private programme organised with the Russians. 

Other Britons have also flown with NASA but as US citizens rather than UK ones.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: ‘Tim Peake is an incredible ambassador for the UK space sector and has played a leading role over the past decade. 

‘Not only has he carried out important scientific work, during his historic Principia mission to the International Space Station and while on Earth, but he has inspired millions with his passion for space and the opportunities it offers.’

He added: ‘Tim has played a huge role in promoting STEM education and space careers, and has shone a light on the hundreds of roles involved in getting an astronaut into space, and across the wider space sector.

 ‘It’s thanks to Tim and those who have worked with him that we can look forward to a new generation of skilled scientists, engineers, lawyers, designers and more, who will help the UK space sector soar to new heights.

‘We wish Tim all the best and look forward to supporting him in his next adventure, knowing that the UK’s role in human space exploration is in the safe hands of the new generation of ESA astronauts from the UK: Rosemary Coogan, Meganne Christian, and the world’s first astronaut with a physical disability, John McFall.’ 

Shooting for the stars: In November last year, three Britons - including the first ever 'parastronaut' John McFall (pictured) - were among the European Space Agency's first new cohort of astronauts in almost 15 years

Shooting for the stars: In November last year, three Britons – including the first ever ‘parastronaut’ John McFall (pictured) – were among the European Space Agency’s first new cohort of astronauts in almost 15 years

Rosemary Coogan

Meganne Christian

Rosemary Coogan (pictured left) and Meganne Christian (right) were also selected from a whopping 22,523 applicants. Coogan is set to begin training in April, while Christian was chosen as a reserve and could join ESA’s astronaut corps if someone else drops out

WHO WAS THE FIRST BRITISH ASTRONAUT INTO SPACE AND HOW MANY HAVE GONE? 

Major Tim Peake is the UK’s first official astronaut and in 2015 became the first British astronaut to go to the International Space Station (ISS). 

However, he was not the first Briton in space.  

According to the British Interplanetary Society, Major Peake is the seventh person born in the UK to have left Earth. 

Here are the people who have and the order in which they did it:

Helen Sharman – 1991

A former chemist for a chocolate company, Helen Sharman won her place on a space trip after answering an advertisement she heard on the radio.

She was selected from more than 13,000 applicants to be the British member of the Soviet scientific space mission, Project Juno, and travelled to the Mir space station in 1991.

During her eight days in space she carried out a series of medical and agricultural experiments. 

Michael Foale – 1992

Having been born in Lincolnshire, Michael Foale went to school in Kent and later studied at the University of Cambridge.

In 1983 he worked in mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center before being selected as an astronaut candidate four years later.

Mr Foale – who has US citizenship – went to space six times between 1992 and 2003. He still considers Cambridge to be his hometown. 

Piers Sellers – 2002

Another NASA astronaut who went to school in Kent. 

Piers Sellers later studied at Edinburgh University and Leeds University before moving to the US in 1982 and joining NASA Nasa’s astronaut corps four years later. 

He went to the ISS in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Nicholas Patrick – 2006

Nicholas Patrick was born in North Yorkshire and went to Harrow School before studying engineering at the University of Cambridge.

After graduating, he moved to Boston to work as an aircraft engineer and became a US citizen in 1994.

He was selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate in June 1998 and completed his first space mission in 2006.

Patrick flew to the ISS again four years later and logged 638 hours in space before retiring as an astronaut in 2012.

Gregory H Johnson – 2008

Having been born in South Ruislip, north-west London, Gregory H Johnson went to school in the US.

He later flew F-15 jets during the first Gulf War before launching to the ISS as a pilot on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008.

Johnson was also a pilot for the final flight of Endeavour and the penultimate flight of the Space Shuttle Program.

Richard Garriott – 2008

Known to avid computer game fans as ‘Lord British’, space tourist Richard Garriott paid about $30 million (£17 million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

He was born in Cambridge in the UK to American parents and followed in the footsteps of his father when he launched to space in 2008. 

Owen Garriott was a NASA astronaut who spent 60 days aboard the Skylab space station in 1973, and 10 days aboard Spacelab-1 on a Space Shuttle mission in 1983. 

His son was a computer games designer who also ran a company operating commercial trips to space.

Tim Peake

Tim Peake is the UK’s first official astronaut and in 2015 became the first British astronaut to go to the ISS.

But according to the British Interplanetary Society, Major Peake is the seventh person born in the UK to have left Earth, after Sharman, Foale, Sellers, Patrick, Johnson and Garriott.

He spent six months on the ISS between December 2015 and June 2016, completing approximately 3,000 orbits of the Earth and covering a distance of 78 million miles (125 million km). 

Major Peake also famously ran the 2016 London Marathon on a treadmill on the ISS.

He has said he hopes to embark on a second mission to space and become the first British person to set foot on the moon. 



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