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Ground Control to Major Tim: Brit goes into space

Tim Peake from the European Space Agency has become the first "official" British astronaut to serve on the International Space Station (ISS), as he and two colleagues blasted off from Kazakhstan Tuesday.

While previous U.K. astronauts have been privately funded or traveled as a US citizen, Peake will be the first state-backed Brit in space, joined Russian Federal Space Agency's Yuri Malenchenko, and NASA's Tim Kopra on a Soyuz spacecraft, which took off around 11am London Time Tuesday.


Expedition 46 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA), Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA pose for at the end of a press conference.
Joel Kowsky/NASA | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Expedition 46 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA), Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA pose for at the end of a press conference.

The trio will be on a six-month mission and take part in several experiments, which will look at the overall impacts to crew members' health and wellbeing during long missions. This experiment will be important for future journeys and looking at colonization elsewhere, including places like Mars.

"Hopefully using (an astronaut) as a test subject should (help us) one day – and hopefully we will – go back to the moon and actually colonize it and start to live there. There may be problems with moon dust particles getting into the astronaut's lungs," Simon Foster, space scientist at Imperial College, explained to CNBC Tuesday.

"So they're going to start using astronauts as kind of 'human guinea pigs' to see how their lungs cope in space. They will also be looking at different kind of drugs they can create that only grow in micro gravity upon the space station, while looking at different alloys and materials that can be used back down here on Earth."

The rocket took off at 5.03 pm (6.03 am ET) in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and the Soyuz capsule is expected to dock with the space station later at 11.24 pm (12.24 pm ET.) After this six hour journey, the trio will join three other crew members who are already on board the station.

Astronauts and space agencies involved took to Twitter prior to the launch to document their thoughts, while #TimPeake trended worldwide on Tuesday after fans posted their "best wishes" to the three explorers.

Foster remains confident that the International Space Station has a future even if NASA follows through with its reported plan to draw away from the station in the next decade or so.

"Even if NASA does unfortunately pull back, there will be some people in there to plug the gap. As I say this really is vital for science back down here on Earth, for us to have a presence up there."


By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her @AlexGibbsy and @CNBCi