Tim Peake has hinted he might come out of retirement as he praised plans for an all-UK space mission.
The 51-year-old, who became the first Briton to complete a spacewalk outside the International Space Station in 2016, announced his decision to retire from his role as a European Space Agency astronaut in January this year.
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has now signed an agreement with a US company, which could lead to the first all-UK mission to space.
The mission would see British astronauts spend a fortnight in orbit to carry out research, demonstrate new technologies and take part in education activities.
When asked if he would be tempted to come out of retirement to lead the history-making expedition, Major Peake replied: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in retirement.”
Describing the UKSA’s deal as “a very exciting development,” he also told Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a lot happening in the space sector right now and I think for the UK to be at the forefront of this new era of exploring commercial opportunities is a fantastic thing.”
Major Peake noted that while there are hurdles to overcome before the plan is finalised – including crew selection, training and NASA approval – it’s encouraging that the UKSA has “started the ball rolling”.
UK universities and research institutions have been asked to share ideas for experiments which could be carried out in space across a two-week period.
Britain has only had two astronauts in space before – Helen Sharman in 1989 and Major Peake 27 years later.
The deal was announced as science minister George Freeman opened the London Stock Exchange and spoke about opportunities to bring investment into the UK’s space industry.
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He said: “The prospect of a historic UK mission with Axiom Space has the potential to inspire a whole new generation to reach for the stars, while supporting our efforts to build one of the most innovative and attractive space economies in the world.
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“We want to put the UK at the forefront of the global race for commercial space investment, continue to support scientists and engineers to test new technologies and carry out important research and, ultimately, bring the benefits back to people and businesses across the country.”