The area cleared around the Soyuz rocket at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan extends for more than a mile before reaching the observation area where family and colleagues gather on launch day. To watch from afar has several advantages. It is easier on the neck, for one. The roar of the 26 million horsepower engines is bearable that far out, too. The main reason, though, is more sobering. At such distance, the crowd should be safe if the Soyuz, a machine that burns 270 tonnes of fuel and oxygen in nine minutes, explodes.
On Tuesday, Tim Peake, the first Briton admitted to the European astronaut corps, will ride a coach into the heart of Baikonur’s exclusion zone. After a short stop to urinate on the coach’s rear right wheel, a tradition embraced since Yuri Gagarin did the same more than 50 years ago, Peake will take his seat in the capsule on top of the rocket. At 11.03am UK time, the engines are due to light up, blasting Peake and his two crewmates into the sky. He is not expected back until June.
Born: Timothy Nigel Peake on 7 April 1972 in Chichester, West Sussex.
Career: Graduated in 1992 from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as an officer in the British Army Air Corps and was awarded his Army Flying Wings two years later. He became a helicopter flying instructor in 1998 and a helicopter test pilot in 2006. He was selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009.
What he says: “After a gap of 24 years since Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station, the Union flag is going to be flown and worn in space once again. What that means is that there’s nothing to stop the schoolkids of Great Britain today from being amongst the first men and women to set foot on Mars in the future.”
What others say: “Tim has done so many things in his life that when he told us he had been chosen it didn’t come as a surprise. Tim has always shown huge determination to succeed. I can remember school reports from Chi High which said: “Tim never gives up”. Nigel Peake, Tim’s father.