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British astronaut Tim Peake's next mission: inspiring the next generation

Peake, who said in a press conference Tuesday that he'd 'go back to space in a heartbeat,' is involved in various initiatives to get kids interested in space.

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    British ESA astronaut Tim Peake smiles during his first public appearance after returning to Earth from the International Space Station, ISS, at the European Astronaut Center, the home base of all ESA astronauts in Cologne, Germany, on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.
    Rolf Vennenbernd/AP
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He's back.

British astronaut Tim Peake returned to Earth from a 186-day stay on the International Space Station on Saturday.

Major Peake was the first British astronaut with the European Space Agency to represent his queen in space and he hopes he won't be the last. Peake has focused on engaging future astronauts in many educational programs throughout his mission to the space station.

"Life doesn't stop with the International Space Station," Peake said at his first press conference back on Earth Tuesday, speaking of the future of space exploration. Part of that, he said, is inspiring children to become astronauts, "to show them that, look, you can be an astronaut, and you can join the European Space Agency, and you can go to the moon."

"We've had one of the most successful educational outreach campaigns during this mission that we've ever seen," he said. "We've reached over a million schoolchildren, which is just phenomenal."

The educational program began even before Peake rocketed off to the space station. "The Great British Space Dinner" project kicked it off, calling on students to design meals that astronauts could eat in space. The motivation behind the project was for students to consider nutrition and the impact of the conditions in space on the human body.

Once Peake was in space, he conducted various experiments for students to mirror on Earth. Peake filmed simple physics and chemistry experiments on the space station so the students could compare their results to his and examine the effects of micro-gravity in the project "Astro Academy: Principia."

Biology wasn't left behind. Some schools planted seeds that had been on the space station for six months alongside the same kind of seeds that had remained on Earth. And this could yield valuable information for scientists.

"Should we ever want to send astronauts back to the Moon or on to Mars they will need fresh food," Libby Jackson, the UK Space Agency's Astronaut Flight Education Programme manager, told BBC News in April. "At the moment astronaut food is freeze dried and not very exciting. We would like to have astronauts growing their own food. It would be healthier, psychologically better for them and it would mean that they would not need to take so much with them."

In addition to the scientific experiments, the program also included space-themed fitness, literature, and creative projects. 

Peake also made direct contact with schoolchildren through live webcasts from the space station. Almost 300 British students took part in a live question and answer session, called "Cosmic Classroom," in February. 

During one live Q&A webcast with Ashfield Primary School in Yorkshire, a seven-year-old asked if there was "space candy." Peake revealed to him, and the rest of the world, that astronauts enjoy sweets too. 

"This is secret between you and me," Peake said, according to BT.com, "but, yes, there is space candy. We have a candy drawer on board the space station and there are things like chocolate in there and all sorts of sugary fizzies, but we're not allowed to eat too many of them."

Peake said during the Tuesday press conference that he hopes to visit many of the children engaged in this program.

"I'm delighted that they've got involved," he said. "I'm delighted that they've been encouraged and been inspired to look at space and to look at science in a different way. And I hope it does inspire them to continue their interest in science."

And when asked if he could share a message to his own former school, Westbourne Primary School in West Sussex, Peake said, "don't let anybody tell you can't do anything."

The students at Westbourne Primary School had their own message for Peake. The school shared a video on their YouTube channel Monday called "'Tim Peake's Coming Home' Music Video" of the pupils singing about Peake's mission and welcoming him home.

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