Major Tim Peake stepping down as European Space Agency astronaut

Tim Peake Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

British astronaut Major Tim Peake is retiring from his role as a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut.

Maj Peake, who grew up in West Sussex, will take on the role of an ambassador for the agency, with the aim of helping young people to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

He was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009 and became the first British ESA astronaut to visit the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2015.

The spaceman, who has been on sabbatical since October 2019, 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."

After training as an astronaut, the former British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot spent six months in space as part of the Principia mission.

It included a spacewalk to repair the space station’s power supply and participating in more than 250 scientific experiments.

He also broke world records by becoming the first man to complete a marathon in space, finishing in three hours, 35 minutes and 21 seconds.

During his time in space, Maj Peake engaged more than two million schoolchildren across Europe in over 30 projects.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, paid tribute, saying: "Tim Peake is an incredible ambassador for the UK space sector and has played a leading role over the past decade.

"Not only has he carried out important scientific work, during his historic Principia mission to the International Space Station and while on Earth, but he has inspired millions with his passion for space and the opportunities it offers.

"Tim has played a huge role in promoting Stem education and space careers, and has shone a light on the hundreds of roles involved in getting an astronaut into space, and across the wider space sector."

The announcement comes after the ESA unveiled its new astronaut candidates last year, including three British citizens – Rosemary Coogan, John McFall and Meganne Christian.

Former Paralympian Mr McFall is taking part in a feasibility study to see if he can fly as a disabled astronaut, while Ms Coogan is due to begin training in April.

Ms Christian is the ESA’s reserve astronaut and could join the astronaut corps in the event of someone else dropping out.