First UK Government Astronaut Set to Launch as UK Releases National Space Policy – UPDATE 2

First UK Government Astronaut Set to Launch as UK Releases National Space Policy – UPDATE 2

UPDATE, December 15, 2015, 8:50 pm EST:  The crew successfully docked with ISS a bit later than expected because of a problem with the Kurs automated docking system.  Soyuz TMA-19M commander Yuri Malenchenko took manual control of the docking and it took place at 12:33 pm EST (instead of 12:24 pm EST).  The hatches between Soyuz and ISS opened, and the new crew members entered ISS, at 2:58 pm EST.

UPDATE, December 15, 2015, 6:15 am EST:  Launch took place on time at 6:03 am EST.  Soyuz TMA-19M is now in orbit and on its way to a docking with the ISS in about 6 hours at 12:24 pm EST.

ORIGINAL STORY, December 14, 2015: Three new International Space Station (ISS) crew members are set to launch tomorrow morning, December 15, to join three others already aboard the ISS.  One is the first astronaut sponsored by the government of the United Kingdom (UK), which released its first national space policy yesterday.

UK astronaut Tim Peake will fly to the ISS on Soyuz TMA-19M along with NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Rocosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.  The UK is a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Peake is a member of the ESA astronaut corps.  

Launch is scheduled for 6:03 am Eastern Standard Time (5:03 pm local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan) and the spacecraft will dock with the ISS at approximately 12:24 pm EST.  The three new ISS crew members are replacing three who returned to Earth on Friday and will join NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergei Volkov.  Kelly and Kornienko are more than half-way through a year-long stint aboard the ISS that began in March; Volkov arrived in September.

Peake is the first person to fly into space as a representative of the British government.  He is not the first British citizen to make a spaceflight, however. That honor belongs to Helen Sharman who visited Russia’s Mir space station in 1991 as a space “tourist.”   Three men born in Britain have flown as NASA astronauts after becoming U.S. citizens (Michael Foale, Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick) and a South African space tourist (Mark Shuttleworth) has dual citizenship in Britain.

Britain is heralding Peake as its first astronaut, however, and its decision to sponsor an astronaut as part of ESA’s astronaut corps does mark a change from its previous focus on space applications, especially remote sensing of the Earth.   Britain is one of 11 European countries that are officially part of the ISS program, having signed the original Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs the ISS program in 1988 and a revised version in 1998 that brought Russia into the program.  It did not financially contribute to the program for many years, however, so the number of European members of the ISS program is variously listed as 10 or 11.

In any event, the UK government appears to have warmed up to the value of human spaceflight and more broadly to space activities.  Yesterday it issued its first national space policy whose opening words are “Space matters.”  The report asserts that in 2014 “the UK space sector directly contributed £11.8 billion to the UK economy and employed nearly 35,000 skilled workers.”  The 14-page document says little about the UK’s plans for future human spaceflight, although the forward by the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills refers to Peake’s flight as part of the UK’s role in exploration that will deliver cutting edge science and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

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