Newspaper headlines: Peake space launch, DJ Fox cleared, EU polls, and oil price fall

As British astronaut Tim Peake prepares to blast off on his six-month mission to the International Space Station, the papers set the scene at the launch site in Kazakhstan.

"It's zero hour," says the headline in the Times, as Major Peake becomes the UK's first official astronaut.

Image copyright PA

Helen Sharman became the first Briton in space in 1991 when she visited the Russian space station Mir as part of a private initiative. But the Times says 43-year-old Major Peake will be overturning half a century of official UK space policy.

The mission, reports the Financial Times, symbolises a newfound UK determination to play an important role in the field. Major Peake will be joining a roster of more than 500 people from 40 countries who have already travelled into space but he has caught the imagination of the British media, it notes.

The Independent carries a photograph of a Russian Orthodox priest at the Baikonur Cosmodrome blessing the Soyuz FG rocket that will take Major Peake into space. And the paper traces the development of the International Space Station over the last 15 years.

After six years of intensive training, Major Tim Peake's turn to leave the planet has finally come, says the Guardian.

"Launches from Baikonur can be more visually dramatic than those from other sites, such as Nasa's Kennedy space centre on Cape Canaveral," explains the paper's science editor Ian Sample. "There is no water on hand to dampen the flames, making takeoff a spectacular, fiery display."

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Major Peake himself says the "greatest dream" of his life is about to be realised.

"Not long to go now..." he adds.

Eye-catching headlines

'Long journey'

Radio DJ Neil Fox is pictured on the front pages after he was found not guilty at Westminster Magistrates' Court of eight indecent assaults and two sexual assaults against fans and colleagues.

Image copyright PA

The Daily Express and Metro are among the papers to pick up on his legal team's claim that the inquiry into the allegations had been a "celebrity witchhunt".

The Sun sums up the events of the day in its headline "cleared Fox's blast at cops", while the Daily Mirror opts to highlight the DJ's tribute to his wife Vicky for standing by him "through this long journey".

EU polls

As David Cameron gears up for a Brussels' summit over his reform proposals, the Daily Telegraph carries the results of a poll which it says suggests that the UK referendum on EU membership is on a "knife edge".

Image copyright Reuters

For its story about the ICM survey of 2,053 voters for the Vote Leave campaign, the Telegraph chooses to highlight the 50% of people who said they would definitely opt to leave the EU. When the undecided are included in the findings, 42% of people said they would vote to stay, with 41% voting to leave.

But the Telegraph says the gap between the campaigns has narrowed significantly in recent weeks and the poll will come as a significant blow to the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the Daily Express reports that an online poll of more than 10,000 British voters conducted by Survation for a group of anti-EU parties suggests 51% who expressed a firm opinion say they want the UK to leave the EU.

Writing in the paper, UKIP leader Nigel Farage says the findings show many of those who were prepared to give Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt are increasingly "rallying to the 'leave side'".

In the Times, political commentator Rachel Sylvester says there is a "sense of growing frustration among pro-Europeans too".

"Privately they warn that Mr Cameron is gambling with the country's future by talking up the problems in Europe, rather than starting to set out the positive case for Britain remaining in the EU," she writes.

'Welcome change'

Government proposals to restrict Freedom of Information laws comes under the spotlight in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror.

The Daily Mail welcome criticism of the plans by a former head of the Civil Service, Lord Kerslake.

"What a welcome change to hear a senior Establishment figure breaking ranks and reminding others of the true meaning of the words public servant," says the Mail in a leader.

The Daily Mirror says FOI has probably saved money and lives by exposing waste and unsafe practices and the government's plans amount to a "discreditable attempt to turn back the clock" to an era when politicians and other officials were less accountable.

Oil shocks

The Times leads with the fall in the price of oil to a near 11-year low. With average petrol prices dipping close to £1 a litre, consumers will have more to spend on shopping trips at Christmas, it reports.

Image copyright AP

The Sun, however, wonders why motorists are "still paying so much", claiming oil firms are cashing in.

In a leader, the Daily Telegraph says low oil prices are not unequivocally good news for Britain as it remains a producer. "Oil retains its power to shock, both positively and negatively" and low barrel prices are unlikely to last, it adds.

Staying with oil, the Financial Times leads with an investigation into the economy of the Islamic State group which indicates the jihadis earn at least as much from taxation, extortion and confiscation as crude production.

"Syria's oil may ostensibly be the militant group's most profitable resource but even if US, French and Russian planes succeed in trying to bring down its crude production, local revenues like taxes could keep the Isis economy churning," it reports.

What the commentators say...

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionEconomist Bronwyn Curtis and the broadcaster and former football administrator David Davies join the BBC News Channel to review Tuesday's front pages

Making people click

Daily Telegraph: Jedi church says new Star Wars film leading to boom in followers

Times: Corbyn's Christmas card comes in for a blizzard of criticism

Guardian: UK pay rises likely to fade fast, think tank warns

Daily Mirror: Jose Mourinho 'betrayed' by Chelsea stars as he admits top four finish is 'gone' following Leicester defeat