When asked if he was afraid to go to space, European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake answered simply, and calmly. “No,” he said. “I’m nervous about not flying to space.” That feeling spread like wildfire across the ground floor of London’s Science Museum this morning, where over 200 students gathered in anticipation, hoping to see the first official UK astronaut leave our planet.
There to oversee the event were Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield and famed physics professor Brian Cox, who only added to the palpable excitement in the museum. Even the slightest mechanical alarm is enough to delay a launch, but at 11:03 GMT – after a countdown that seemed to last a lifetime– the Soyuz was off, sending Peake, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, soaring into the ether at a whopping 8,000 miles per hour.
As the first stage boosters fell away, Peake gave a thumbs up to the onboard video camera, signaling to the world that all was well – and sending the room into complete hysterics.
“It’s hard to explain,” Hadfield recalled during the emotional moment. “But it really does feel like the rocket is alive. You become part of this living, breathing entity.”
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) December 15, 2015
Once onboard, Peake will spend six months at the station, where he’ll conduct a wide range of scientific experiments aimed to better prepare us for extended space travel. He beat over 8,000 applicants to become the man for the job, a privilege he doesn’t take for granted.
The journey began the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan – the same place where Yuri Gagarin became the first person to journey into outer space in 1961. “When I was doing my preparations, I ended up standing right next to the tree that Yuri planted prior to his journey,” Peake told the BBC. “It was a very humbling moment. And then as I walked further down the Cosmonaut Grove, I saw all the cosmonauts and astronauts who came before me … it really brought me to what I’m going to be doing up there in space.”
You can follow Peake using #Principia on Twitter, or watch the entire journey in the Livestream below:
IMAGES: ESA, BBC