Britain's 'Major Tim' bids space adieu

The astronaut touched down in Kazakhstan on Saturday, 'elated' at all of Earth's smells. 

Shamil Zhumatov/AP
Tim Peake waves after landing near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Saturday. Britain's first publicly funded astronaut has returned to Earth.

British astronaut Tim Peake had an unusual wish when he landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan on Saturday, after spending 186 days in space.

"I'd love some cool rain right now," he said with a smile, as he squinted at the sun, and sweated in his space suit.

Major Peake's jesting culminates his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), stealing his country's heart with the records he set and his social media personality.   

Peake is not the first Brit to travel to space. That title belongs to Helen Sharman, who visited Russia's Mir space station in 1991 on a private mission. Several British-born American citizens have ventured outside Earth's atmosphere with NASA's space shuttle program.

But Peake is the first Briton to represent his queen in space. He is the country's first publicly funded astronaut, and the first Briton to visit the ISS. The former army helicopter pilot left Earth in December to live aboard the science lab 250 miles above Earth's orbit.

There, he carried out a European Space Agency (ESA) mission dubbed Principia, after Isaac Newtown's revolutionary text on physics. Peake conducted and participated in hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science, and Earth science, achieving numerous milestones for his country, including becoming the first British astronaut to wear the Union Jack on a spacewalk, as the Christian Science Monitor's Lucy Schouten reported. He did so to help replace a voltage regulator that had failed, according to NASA.

Much of the world knows "Major Tim," a play on "Major Tom" from David Bowie's "Space Oddity," for his other deeds. Peak ran the London Marathon from the ISS in record-breaking time. His finish time of 3 hours, 35 minutes, and 21 seconds is fastest marathon ever to be run in space, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. He ran the 26.2-mile route while watching TV coverage of the race and with the help of the iPad app RunSocial, which simulated the marathon route from Shooters Hill in southeast London to Westminster.

On Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday, he Tweeted "#happybirthday your majesty" in addition to posing in a picture holding the same message scribbled on a piece of paper, and wearing a t-shirt that read "Science is Great." After Mr. Bowie, the British singer, died, Peake paid Twitter tribute to the Starman who gave him his namesake.

Peake also participated in the Mars simulation, Meteron. From his perch in the ISS, Peake controlled a rover in a Mars-like simulation in an English yard. The experiment tested how astronauts who will one day orbit the Red Planet can manage a complex network and communications delays to drive rovers on the ground.

On Peake's descent to Earth on Saturday, he was joined by NASA's Tim Kopra and Russian Agency Roscosmos's Yuri Malenchenko. Peake was the least experienced space traveler among the trio, as it was Mr. Malchenko's sixth mission to space and Mr. Kopra's second. 

When asked what Peake will miss the most, he said the view.

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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