Tim Peake, the UK’s first ESA astronaut, has announced he is retiring from the astronaut corp to focus on educational outreach as a full-time ambassador for space and science.

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“Being an ESA astronaut has been the most extraordinary experience,” says Tim. “I have had the privilege of working with an exceptional team of dedicated individuals during the past 13 years with the agency, which has been incredibly exciting and rewarding.”

Formerly a helicopter pilot with the British Army Air Corps, Tim was selected as a member for ESA’s 2009 astronaut class.

After completing his training in 2010, he spent three years working as a communicator, before being assigned to a mission to the ISS.

He launched towards the ISS on 15 December 2015 , and remained onboard for six months.

During his mission, named Principia after Isaac Newton's scientific opus, he conducting over 250 scientific experiments, undertook a spacewalk to repair the station’s power supply, drove a rover across simulated Martian terrain, and helped dock two spacecraft.

Astronaut Tim Peak floats on the ISS surrounded by fresh apples and oranges
Tim Peake juggles fruit in microgravity to celebrate the arrival of fresh fruit to the station. Credit: ESA

He returned to Earth on 18 June 2016.

Throughout his time, Tim has devoted much of his time talking to schools, writing books including an anthology of his best photographs from the ISS, and conducting other educational outreach efforts, which will now be the focus of his attention.

"By assuming the role of an ambassador for human spaceflight, I shall continue to support ESA and the UK Space Agency, with a focus on educational outreach, and I look forward to the many exciting opportunities ahead."

The future of UK astronauts

This is not the end for UK astronauts at ESA, as the 2022 ESA astronaut class contained three British members.

Rosemary Coogan, an astrophysicist from Northern Ireland, was selected as a Career Astronaut and is now undergoing training to become a full-time astronaut.

She is joined by John McFall, a Paralympic athlete and orthopaedic surgeon, who is taking part in the Parastronaut Feasibility Study.

He will work with ESA to discover what adaptions would be necessary to allow physically disabled people to be astronauts, with the hope of becoming the first person with a physical disability to fly in space

The ESA Astronaut Class of 2022 includes 3 UK participants: Meganne Christian (L), John McFall (C), and Rosemary Coogan (R). Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images
The ESA Astronaut Class of 2022 includes 3 UK participants: Meganne Christian (L), John McFall (C), and Rosemary Coogan (R). Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Finally, Meganne Christian, a chemical engineer who holds joint British, Italian, Australian and New Zealand citizenship, was selected for the Astronaut Reserve.

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To reflect the growing demand for astronauts expected over the next few years due to missions such as NASA's Artemis, ESA created this group of potential astronauts who will not immediately undergo full training, but may be called up should an opportunity become available.

Authors

Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.