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Britain's 'Major Tim' readies for journey back down to Earth

British astronaut Tim Peake will end his six-month mission to the International Space Station on Saturday.

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    British astronaut Tim Peake is seen on a video screen transmitted from the International Space Station (ISS) at the astronaut centre of the European Space Agency ESA in Cologne, Germany, in April. Major Peake is set to return to Earth on Saturday after spending six months on the ISS.
    Henning Kaiser/dpa/AP
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British astronaut Tim Peake will end his six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS) Saturday to return to Earth aboard Russia’s Soyuz capsule along with his colleagues, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra.

“My ride home: Soyuz TMA-19M looking as good as the day she was launched into orbit,” Major Peake tweeted on Friday with a picture of Soyuz docked to the ISS, as he prepared for his return trip, originally scheduled for June 5. His return was pushed back when the launch of his replacement crew was delayed.

Peake is also known by his nickname "Major Tim," in reference to a fictional astronaut from David Bowie’s 1969 song, "Space Oddity," which was remade and performed aboard the ISS by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadley in a wildly popular 2013 video. The former test pilot and British Army Air Corps officer traveled to the science lab in orbit 250 miles above Earth in December to carry out a mission called Principia on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). The mission was named after Isaac Newton's monumental 1687 paper on motion and gravity.

Peake’s work in space included many science and technology experiments in fields ranging from human health, robotics, materials, and space science.

“It is not only the weightlessness which scientists make use of [aboard the ISS]: extreme radiation, vacuum, isolation and many other factors can be used to study physical and psychological effects in a new way,” the mission website explains.

Days into his space mission, Peake had the enviable opportunity (to astronauts, at least) to leave the safety of the ISS for a spacewalk to replace a failed voltage regulator.

“I am thrilled to be assigned a spacewalk in 10 days. Lots of work to do before Tim and I can open the hatch,” he tweeted at the time.

He also participated in a Mars simulation called Meteron, remotely operating a rover in a Mars-like simulation created in an English yard from his perch in the ISS. The experiment aimed to test how astronauts who will one day orbit Mars will manage a complex network and communications delays to guide rovers on the surface of the Red Planet in precarious maneuvers.

"The whole idea of the simulations is to see if the operational products we make are clear enough for someone who is driving the rover for the first time," wrote flight operator Koen Struyven in an ESA blog post in April.  

Besides his research projects, Peake also broke world records while living in space. In April, he attracted international attention after he completed the London Marathon from the tranquility of space, strapped into a harness and tethered to the treadmill aboard the ISS. His time of 3 hours, 35 minutes, and 21 seconds secured him a Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in orbit.

"Weightlessness, I think, is one of the perfect environments, because the moment you stop running, and the moment you get off that bungee system, your muscles are in a completely relaxed state," said Peake in a video at the time.

The former army major is the first to officially represent the British government in space. He is not the first Briton in space, though. British Chemist Helen Sharman travelled to space on a Soviet-era spacecraft in 1991 for an eight-day mission funded by Russia and private companies.

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