The UK never expected to have one of its nationals selected in the recent intake of new astronauts at the European Space Agency (Esa).
Why should it have? The country does not contribute to Esa's human spaceflight programme; working on the principle that underpins the optional programmes at the agency ("what you put in, you get out"), the UK certainly had no "right" to an astronaut.
But Major Tim Peake was selected - on merit - and on Monday graduated from basic training. Hopes have been raised that we will finally see an "official British astronaut" in orbit soon.
Tim Peake receives his Esa astronaut certificate from Michel Tognini, head of the astronaut corps
The closest thing to a government-sponsored Brit in orbit was when four forces personnel trained as Skynet payload assistants for shuttle flights in the 1980s. Sadly, they lost their chance in the fall-out from the Challenger accident.
So, Major Tim flies the flag. Literally? And when? Well, there are worst-case and best-case scenarios.
All are set against the background of the US retiring its seven-seat shuttles next year, reducing the flight opportunities for all nations' astronauts. From then on, the three-seat Russian Soyuz is going to be the sole route to orbit for several years ahead.
The next three European opportunities to go into space are already spoken for: Paolo Nespoli (Italy) goes to the ISS in the next few weeks; Roberto Vittori (Italy) will launch on the final Endeavour shuttle flight in February; and Andre Kuipers (Netherlands) will go to the ISS on a Soyuz at the end of 2011.
These are what you might call the "old-guard" astronauts: the agency's veterans.
How long will it be before a new generation of American capsules is introduced?
Once their missions are done, the baton is almost certainly going to be passed to the Class of 2010 - Tim Peake and his five fellow astronaut rookies: Samantha Cristoforetti (Italy), Alexander Gerst (Germany), Andreas Mogensen (Denmark), Luca Parmitano (Italy), and Thomas Pesquet (France).
The earliest any one of them can get into orbit will be the May of 2013. This assignment has got to go to an Italian because it is a flight granted to the country as an in-kind payment for its production of the MPLMs.
The Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules have been the packing boxes that shuttles have used these past eight years to take supplies up to the space station. It was a clever barter agreement the Italian space agency (Asi) organised for itself with the Americans.
It means that either Luca Parmitano or Samantha Cristoforetti would be expected to be the first to fly.
The next opportunity is a 2014 flight to the ISS. This is part of Esa's entitlement as an 8% space station partner. It has a right to fly one of its astronauts on the platform for a period of six months, every two years.
The third opportunity, in 2015, is another of the Asi-guaranteed slots (guaranteed to an Italian national).
Beyond 2015, no opportunities have been set in stone but on the current schedule, there ought to be at least a further two Esa-nominated seats on a rocket before the decade's end, perhaps in 2017 and 2019.
Now, there is a cynical view out there that says Major Tim must be at the back of the queue simply because he's British.
The French and Germans, who pay most towards the space station programme, will ensure "their people" go first - so the argument goes. But there is good reason to believe such pessimism is skewed.
For one thing, France and Germany are not the European Space Agency - there are 16 other member states, eight of whom also contribute to the ISS programme.
Major Tim is prepared to play the long game
If France and Germany were really that persuasive, Major Tim would never have been selected in the first place. He's there because he's good - because he was an "exceptional candidate", as one Esa official involved in his selection told me.
In addition, there are noises that the flight opportunities can be increased.
Russia currently produces four Soyuz vehicles a year. The ISS partners are talking about increasing the production to five a year.
This is a prospect which could pay particular dividends for the Europeans, the Canadians and the Japanese, the three "junior partners" on the ISS, because their flight opportunities will never match those of the Americans and Russians.
This option has its complications, however. More astronauts at the station means a greater requirement for supplies. That would have to be managed carefully. Not all of the robotic freighters scheduled to take stores to the ISS this decade have proved their capability.
The other scenario that could increase particularly European flight opportunities is if the current six-month residencies Esa enjoys at the platform are split into two stays of three months.
And whatever your feelings about the course taken by US spaceflight policy in recent months, it is possible that the Americans will have introduced at least one new commercial crew taxi service by 2016, perhaps even two new vehicles.
Major Tim is philosophical. He knows the score, but tells me he's definitely in for the long haul:
"The space industry takes peaks and troughs, and in some respects the six new astronauts joined in something of a trough, with the cancellation of the US Constellation programme and the retirement of the shuttles. But it is like everything: you look to the future. Commercial transportation is a very exciting venture; there is the potential for Soyuz production to increase, and for the life expectancy of the ISS to be increased. The situation is quite optimistic. People are now looking not just to ISS but to the next step in the 2020s."