UK astronaut Tim Peake returns to Earth

By Paul Rincon
Science editor, BBC News website

Media caption,
The BBC's David Shukman was there to greet Tim Peake when he landed

UK astronaut Tim Peake is back on Earth after a historic six-month stay on the International Space Station.

A Soyuz capsule carrying Major Peake and two other crew members touched down in Kazakhstan at 10:15 BST.

He called the journey back "the best ride I've been on ever", adding: "The smells of Earth are just so strong."

Maj Peake is the first person to fly to space under the UK banner since Helen Sharman in 1991 and made the first spacewalk by a UK astronaut.

During the 186-day mission mission, Maj Peake also remotely steered a robot on Earth and ran the London Marathon.

Just before 15:00 BST, Maj Peake landed by helicopter on the runway at Karagandy airport.

But neither he nor his American colleague Tim Kopra made it to the subsequent press conference. They were presumed to be tired after their gruelling return journey.

Later on Saturday, a Nasa gulfstream jet is due to fly Tim Peake to Norway. He will then go on to Cologne, Germany, where the European Astronaut Centre is based.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
After exiting the capsule, Tim Peake said the "smells of Earth are just so strong"
Image source, AP
Image caption,
Cameras captured the moment the Soyuz capsule touched down in Kazakhstan
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Soyuz capsule was left charred by the extreme temperatures on the descent
Image source, Sarah Rainsford
Image caption,
Maj Peake was helped through the airport at Karagandy in Kazakhstan

His mission has taken him on about 3,000 orbits of Earth, covering a distance of about 125 million km.

Asked how he felt after landing, Maj Peake said: "Truly elated, the smells of Earth are just so strong, just so good to be back on Earth. I'll look forward to seeing the family."

The spacecraft turned over several times after it landed relatively hard due to the wind speed on the Kazakh steppe. An official from Russia's Yuri Gagarin training centre said this was why they looked "a little green" after coming out of the capsule.

"It is going to be quite tricky for me to adapt. It's probably going to take me two or three days before I feel well," Maj Peake said in his last news conference before the return.

"It will take me several months before my body fully recovers in terms of bone density. And it will be interesting to see any lasting changes to eyesight etc.

"But generally speaking in two or three days I should be fairly comfortable back on Earth."

In 2009, Maj Peake was chosen from a pool of 8,000 applicants to join the European Space Agency (Esa) astronaut training programme, along with five other recruits.

"He's done an amazing job," said the agency's director of human spaceflight, Dr David Parker. "He's exceeded all expectations, certainly in terms of the impact that he's had back in the UK."

Media caption,
Spacewalks, auroras, space invaders and a gorilla chase! Watch key moments from Esa astronaut Tim Peake's mission

On Friday, Colonel Tim Kopra handed over command of the ISS to his Nasa colleague Jeff Williams.

At about 03:35 BST on Saturday, Maj Peake, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Col Kopra made their farewells and entered the Russian Soyuz TMA-19M space capsule to return home from the International Space Station.

After undocking at 06:53 BST, the Soyuz performed two separation burns to distance the spacecraft from the orbiting outpost.

The vehicle then fired its engines again at 09:22 for a duration of four-and-a-half minutes to begin the re-entry through the atmosphere.

Media caption,
Tim Peake enters the Soyuz TMA-19M before separating from the ISS
Image source, NASA
Image caption,
The Soyuz capsule undocked from the ISS at 06:53 BST
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
As the vehicle plummeted to Earth, parachutes opened to further slow its descent
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The crew members were carried out of the capsule and placed in chairs to recover

Screaming towards Earth at 25 times the speed of sound, the Soyuz was enveloped in a fiery ball of superheated plasma. During this phase, the crew members inside can be subjected to forces of about 5Gs - a level at which some people pass out.

As it neared the ground, the capsule deployed its parachutes to slow the descent, firing engines to cushion its landing on the steppe, near the Kazakh city of Dzhezkazgan at 10:15 BST.

Dr Simon Evetts, from the UK's Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, said: "During re-entry, Tim will undergo significant strain on his body and will also feel the effects of his landmark mission for weeks to come.

"Upon arrival, Tim will feel weaker due to muscle loss and reduced cardiovascular fitness, and will feel heavy in Earth's gravity."

Tim Peake in space: Want to know more?

Special report page: For the latest news, analysis and video

ISS guide: What's it like to live on the space station?

Video: How the view from space affects your mind

Explainer: The journey into space

Timeline: How Tim Peake became a British astronaut

On 15 January this year, just a month after arriving at the station, Maj Peake participated in the first spacewalk for a UK astronaut. He and Tim Kopra set out to change a faulty component on the outside of the ISS, along with other tasks.

They completed the primary goal, but the walk had to be called off early when water began to leak into Col Kopra's helmet - a matter that is still under investigation.

In April, he secured himself to a treadmill on the ISS to run the distance of the London Marathon, completing the event in three hours, 35 minutes.

He also participated in a programme of experiments in medical science, radiation physics and materials.

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