Major Tim Peake, the first official British astronaut to complete a spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS), is retiring.
Seven years since his history-making stroll among the stars in January 2016, the 50-year-old will become an ambassador for the European Space Agency (ESA) to help young people pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.
He has been an ESA astronaut since May 2009, and first visited the ISS in December 2015.
The ex-British army helicopter pilot hailed the experience of looking down on Earth during his six-month mission as “an incredible feeling”.
He had hoped to return but has been on sabbatical since October 2019.
Major Peake said: “I have had the privilege of working with an exceptional team of dedicated individuals during the past 13 years with the agency, which has been incredibly exciting and rewarding.
“By assuming the role of an ambassador for human spaceflight, I shall continue to support ESA and the UK Space Agency, with a focus on educational outreach, and I look forward to the many exciting opportunities ahead.”
Major Peake’s role in space
The Briton went into space for a mission called Principia, which included more than 250 scientific experiments.
His spacewalk was to repair the space station’s power supply.
Major Peake also broke records by completing a marathon in space in three hours, 35 minutes, and 21 seconds.
Since the Principia mission, which ended with Major Peake touching back down on Earth in a Soyuz spacecraft alongside astronauts from Russia and NASA, he has been an enthusiastic ambassador for space travel and the collaboration it fosters.
After Prince William’s criticism of the space race and the involvement of billionaires, Major Peake told Sky News it remained “incredibly important” to explore the stars.
He has also been a de facto ambassador for the UK’s efforts to expand its role in the new space race, hailing this month’s orbital rocket launch from Cornwall as “a ground-breaking mission for the UK space industry”.
Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said he had “played a leading role” in the sector.
He added: “Not only has he carried out important scientific work during his historic Principia mission to the ISS and while on Earth, but he has inspired millions with his passion for space and the opportunities it offers.”
Who will fly the flag for Britain next?
Three British citizens were announced as part of the ESA’s next batch of astronaut candidates late last year.
They include Rosemary Coogan, an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland, who from April will undertake vigorous training for a future mission.
Former Paralympian John McFall is taking part in a feasibility study to see if he can fly as a disabled astronaut, while Meganne Christian is a reserve in case someone drops out.