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While this week saw Tim Peake become Britain’s first male astronaut, the country’s very first astronaut was due to fly nearly 30 years ago but never made it to space.
RAF man and British astronaut Nigel Wood was scheduled to fly to space in June 1986 on the Columbia shuttle, but the mission was scrapped following the Challenger disaster in which the orbiter broke apart 73 seconds after launch, killing all on board.
Wood and his backup, army officer and fellow British astronaut Richard Farrimond had trained alongside the Challenger crew.
The two Brits were chosen as part of the UK’s first astronaut corps, which also included Navy Commander Peter Longhurst and his backup, civil servant Christopher Holmes.
The Brits had been due to fly on two separate shuttle missions to launch the Skynet 4A and 4B military satellites to space, following an agreement made by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan.
Following the disaster, the space shuttle didn’t fly again for more than two years, and was no longer used to deploy satellites.
After their chance to fly to space was lost, Wood later became the RAF’s chief test pilot while Richard Farrimond eventually left the army and went into the space industry.
The Skynet satellites were later launched using rockets.
In 1991, Helen Sharman eventually became the very first Brit in space, flying to space station Mir as part of a mission co-funded by private British companies and the Soviet Union.
Along with Sharman, a handful of Brits have made it into space.
Michael Foale and Nicholas Patrick flew on the shuttle with US citizenship, while Richard Garriott flew to the ISS on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as a self-funded space tourist.
The UK Space Agency was finally founded in 2010 and has since increased its contributions to the European Space Agency (ESA).
The steadily growing UK space sector is now worth £11.8billion employing 37,000 people and supporting around 115,000 additional jobs.
On 15 December, Tim Peake became the ESA’s first British astronaut when he flew to the ISS on board the Soyuz.
Image credit: NASA
H/T: The Telegraph