Ground control to Major Tim: Tim Peake to be Britain's first official astronaut for 20 years with International Space Station mission

Former test pilot will live and work on ISS for six months

A British former helicopter pilot will be the country's first "home-grown" astronaut after he was confirmed as one of the crew to fly to the International Space Station (ISS).

Major Timothy Peake, 41, has spoken of his excitement at being chosen as one of those heading to the ISS in two years' time. The Chichester born astronaut was selected from more than 8,000 hopefuls to take part in the mission, expected to last five months. The European Space Agency [ESA] is expected to release full details later.

Maj Peake described his appointment as a "true privilege".

"It feels like a real high point in a long career in aviation", he said.

"I am really grateful to my family, friends and professional colleagues who are supporting me as I prepare for the challenge that lies ahead.

"The mission to the International Space Station is going to be a wonderful opportunity, not just for Europe and European science but the UK as well."

It is hoped Maj Peake, who tweets with the handle astro-timpeake, could even match the popularity of David Bowie fan, Commander Chris Hadfield.

Cdr Hadfield, from Canada, was his country's first professional astronaut, but gained a legion of fans on the Soyuz space capsule mission to and from the ISS, by performing a cover of the Bowie classic, Space Oddity. He now has close to one million followers on Twitter.

In a jokey reference to Cdr Hadfield, he said: "I do play the guitar, but very badly, and I wouldn't inflict my singing on anybody."

Maj Peake praised Cdr Hadfield for the "fantastic job" he had done. "I don't think I'll be able to top the tweeting, but I will also be tweeting, to encourage a generation to take an interest in space."

Maj Peake, a test pilot in the Army Air Corps, was one of six Astronaut Corps recruits chosen by the ESA in May 2009. He is currently the only Briton to have been accepted into the European Astronaut Corps.

The first Briton in space was Sheffield-born chemistry graduate Helen Sharman in May 1991. She took part in the Soviet mission Project Juno, spending eight days conducting scientific experiments at the Mir Space Station.

Huge financial costs meant that Britain has in the past rejected the notion of manned space flights. A handful of Britons have flown on the US space shuttle, but there have been no "home-grown" UK manned space missions.

In a statement, Prime Minister David Cameron described Maj Peake's appointment as a "momentous day for Great Britain."

"It is a great sign of our thriving British space sector, which has seen real growth thanks to our world-class research, and now supports nearly 30,000 jobs.

"What an achievement that Tim was picked for this historic role from over 8,000 applicants from around the world. I am sure he will do us proud and I hope that he will inspire the next generation to pursue exciting careers in science and engineering."

Lift off to the space station would be from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz rocket. The flight is expected to take place in November 2015.

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