A Russian rocket carrying British astronaut Tim Peake into space has blasted off from Kazakhstan in a spectacular display of fire and thunder.
The 305-tonne Soyuz launch rocket took off into a clear sky from the same spot on the Baikonur Cosmodrome where the first man in space Yuri Gagarin was shot into orbit in 1961.
Rising slowing at first from a conflagration of smoke and fumes, the rocket quickly picked up speed until it became a bright star fading from sight.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) December 15, 2015
After one minute, it was soaring upwards at 1,000mph and crashing through the sound barrier.
Two minutes into the flight, the four first-stage boosters strapped around the rocket fuselage were jettisoned.
Major Peake’s wife Rebecca, two sons, Thomas, six and Oliver, four, and other members of his family watched the take off from a VIP viewing area 1.7km from the launch pad.
Representatives of the world’s media observed from an adjacent viewing platform.
Major Peake, 43, and his crew companions, Russian Commander Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Tim Kopra, entered the tiny Soyuz TMA-19 space capsule capping the top of the rocket two and half hours before the launch.
It was great to watch Tim Peake blast off on his mission to join the International Space Station. pic.twitter.com/pqAw0ETuok
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) December 15, 2015
Conditions were perfect with clear, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind.
At blast-off, the rocket generated 422.5 tonnes of thrust – equivalent to 26 million horse power.
It took just six minutes for the second stage of the rocket to separate and eight minutes for the Soyuz capsule to detach and enter preliminary orbit.
News that the craft had entered space was greeted with rapturous applause by friends and relatives on the ground who hugged each other with relief.
Rebecca was heard to say: “Wasn’t it an amazing sight? I had the biggest smile on my face.”