major_clanger: Clangers (Royal Mail stamp) (Default)
[personal profile] major_clanger
Tim Peake isn't the first British astronaut, is he?

No. By any practical definition that would be Helen Sharman, who flew on the Juno mission to Mir in 1991.

So why is he being described as the first 'official' British astronaut?

Because his flight is formally supported and (via the UK's contribution to the ESA human spaceflight programme - which the UK only recently started funding) paid for by HM Government. This is the first time that has happened.

So Peake is the first astronaut sponsored by the UK?

No, that would be the Skynet 4 Payload Specialist group selected in 1984, all of whom were UK government employees (three military, one civil service) for two missions paid for by the UK. They never flew, because after the Challenger disaster the Skynet 4 satellites were rebooked onto expendable launchers, but they were definitely official British astronauts.

OK, so he's the first official British astronaut to be allocated to a space mission?

No, that would be Squadron Leader Nigel Wood (assigned to shuttle mission STS-61H) as part of the Skynet 4 programme. As noted above, the mission was cancelled post-Challenger, but Wood got to within 6 months of flight.

But even if they never flew the Skynet 4 group were the first British astronauts?

If you mean 'born in the UK' then no, that honour goes to Anthony Llewellyn, born in Cardiff in 1933. He became a naturalised US citizen, was selected as part of NASA's second scientist-astronaut group in 1967, but resigned before being assigned a mission.

Sharman wasn't an 'official' astronaut then?

Yes and no. The Juno mission was privately-funded, or was meant to be, but the basis of the mission had been agreed at a fairly high level (seemingly between Thatcher and Gorbachev). What seems to have happened is that the UK Government was initially happy to support Juno in every respect except paying for it, but when it became clear that there was a lot less appetite for private sponsorship than had been assumed the Government rather distanced itself from the project and the Soviet Union ended up paying the bill. Since then Sharman's flight has been rather conflated with later 'tourist' missions (such as that by British-born Richard Garriot) but in truth it had a fair bit of official support.

Date: 2015-12-15 07:33 pm (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
Further FAQ:

Had Sharman been male, would the issue of her "firstness" even have arisen?

Date: 2015-12-15 07:44 pm (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
A friend of a friend got to the last 32, if not the last sixteen, and certainly there wasn't much popular dispute at the time that what they were competing for was "First British astronaut".

Date: 2015-12-16 09:12 am (UTC)
watervole: (Default)
From: [personal profile] watervole
Thanks for an interesting post.

Date: 2015-12-18 12:03 pm (UTC)
sunflowerinrain: Singing at the National Railway Museum (Default)
From: [personal profile] sunflowerinrain
Excellent! Thank you.

Date: 2015-12-15 07:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Don't forget dual nationals Michael Foale, Mark Shuttleworth, Piers Sellers, Nicholas Patrick and Richard Garriott, 3 NASA, 2 tourists

Date: 2015-12-15 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, certainly not, although none of them have any claim to be 'first British astronaut'.

I suppose Foale would qualify as 'first British-born person or person holding British citizenship to be employed as a member of an astronaut corps' when he was part of the NASA 1987 selection.

Date: 2015-12-16 11:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What about Dan Dare?

Date: 2015-12-16 01:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What about Bedford and Cavor?

Come to think of it, is The First Men in the Moon the first fictional depiction of British space travellers? From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon featured two Americans and a Frenchman

Date: 2015-12-23 09:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You can hear old and contemporary interviews with the Skynet-4 people at


major_clanger: Clangers (Royal Mail stamp) (Default)
Simon Bradshaw

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