Science & Environment

Peake: 'I would return to space in a heartbeat'

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Media captionTim Peake: "The spacecraft really does blow itself apart"

Tim Peake says he would go back into space "in a heartbeat" after his six-month mission to the space station.

The UK astronaut has given his first full news conference since touching down on the Kazakh steppe on Saturday.

He 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, Maj Peake also remotely steered a robot on Earth and ran the London Marathon.

He told a news conference: "I would do it again in a heartbeat. And I can say that because I've spoken to my wife and she is incredibly supportive of it."

He also said he hoped the UK would send further Britons into space.

Watching Tim Peake return to earth

In pictures: Tim Peake's journey home

Your Tim Peake moments

Living on the International Space Station

"We have to be continuing our contributions to human spaceflight," he told journalists at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.

But he explained: "Life doesn't stop with the International Space Station," adding that there were likely to be other upcoming opportunities over the coming years, including potential missions to the Moon and Mars.

"If we are not involved now we will simply miss the boat," he said.

David Shukman, BBC Science Editor

For someone who's just back from six months off the planet, Tim Peake looked remarkably well and he spoke in an easy and relaxed manner.

Still adjusting to the sense of weight and the novel stability of the ground, he might have been expected to have dreaded this appearance and yearn for his bed instead. As it turned it, Europe's newest astronaut seemed to relish the chance to talk.

His doctor was waiting in the wings, poised to bring the event to a close, but no intervention was needed. Tim was graphic about his violent and fiery descent, passionate about the need for Britain not to be left behind in future space missions, and funny about the pleasure of going to the loo assisted by gravity.

But, as ever, he was most animated when describing the inspirational effect his adventure would have on schoolchildren. And when we asked if he had a message for the pupils at his first school, Westbourne Primary in West Sussex, he urged them to remember that he'd only achieved three poor A-levels but had just returned from space. He'll make a visit to the UK next month. Peake-mania is highly likely.

Returning to Earth

Describing the descent to Earth on Saturday, Maj Peake said: "The descent is a really exciting ride... you can't help the boy inside you that's enjoying this fantastic ride back from space.

He said the pyrotechnic bolts that went off to separate the descent module (containing the crew members) from the other two parts of the Soyuz spacecraft sounded "like a very heavy machine gun", adding that "the spacecraft really does blow itself apart".

Image copyright NASA/Bill Ingalls
Image caption The Soyuz capsule touched down near the city of Dzhezkazgan in south-central Kazakhstan

As the descent module dropped further in altitude, Mr Peake said: "You really get a strong sensation that you are falling back to the planet... the capsule gets very hot, you're working against the Gs (gravitational forces), you're working hard against the heat, you've got your visor down with not much ventilation, you're having to read the systems and check the spacecraft."

But he explained: "Probably the most dynamic part is where the parachute - the drogue chute - opens. For 20 seconds you're getting really flung around, so you have to hold on and wait for it all to stop."

Readjusting to Earth

Maj Peake emphasised the importance of inspiring the next generation. The UK Space Agency had devised a programme of educational activities around the astronaut's "Principia" mission.

These included contests to design the spaceman's mission patch, to devise a meal for Maj Peake to eat in space and an experiment comparing the growth of seeds that had been in space with those that remained on Earth.

He said: "We have reached over a million schoolchildren... I'm delighted we've got them to think about space and science in a different way," adding that he wanted them to know that: "You can go to the Moon."

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

Asked what he would tell pupils at his old school, Tim Peake said: "I think the message to take away is that you're looking at a boy who went to Westbourne Primary School who left school at the age of 19 with three below average A-levels and I've just got back from a six-month mission to space.

"My message to them is: 'Don't let anyone tell you you can't do anything'."

Maj Peake said he had already been receiving rehabilitation following his return. But he would now be involved in a physical programme to help him return to full fitness.

Extended periods in microgravity takes a large toll on the body, including a fall in bone density and muscle wastage.

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