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Astronaut Tim Peake launches into space

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The first human to walk in space, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, remarked today on how his memories of the first human spaceflight more than half a century ago were rekindled in the Science Museum when he witnessed 3000 children count down to Tim Peake’s Soyuz blasting off from Baikonur.

Leonov talked movingly about walking through the ocean of children waving Union Flags in the Museum as Peake headed to the International Space Station (ISS) on 15 December 2015. He saw that many had been moved to cry tears of joy, just as Soviet people were in April 1961, when Yuri Gagarin inaugurated the era of manned spaceflight.

Leonov added that the Museum’s Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition, was the ‘best of its kind’ he had seen, offering his congratulations.

The pioneering cosmonaut also talked about Peake’s launch at the Royal Society today while announcing how a new Starmus medal for the communication of science had been adorned with a Stephen Hawking drawing that he had done during a visit to the Museum earlier this year.

The Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, declared that the Science Museum is the UK’s leading populariser of science during a reception held at the Museum to celebrate Tim Peake’s launch by the European and UK space agencies.

As Tim Peake launched into space, cosmonauts Leonov, Helen Sharman, Andreas Mogensen and Chris Hadfield looked on at the sea of cheering children in the Museum, along with Stargazing Live presenters professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, and the director general of the BBC, Tony Hall.

The BBC’s science editor remarked the roar of the children on lift-off was louder than Peake’s Soyuz at full throttle. As Dan Snow, the TV historian tweeted, it was an historic day.

Around 11,000 people celebrated the launch of the UK’s first official ESA astronaut at the Science Museum, with 3.8 million watching BBC Stargazing Live as it was broadcast from the Museum. The hope is that this spectacle will help to inspire the next generation of cosmonauts and astronauts.

In his first press conference from space (watch here, 24.20), astronaut Tim Peake said: ‘I saw the wonderful pictures from the Science Museum in London and I just through that was incredible, absolutely spectacular and phenomenal support’.

This unprecedented series of events involved a wide range of partners, from the European and UK space agencies to Imperial College, the Natural History Museum and Discover South Kensington.

However, Tim’s mission really started, of course, when Science Museum Trustee David Willetts, as the then UK science minister, overturned the space policy that arose from what he calls “the misconceived British belief that manned spaceflight is an expensive luxury”.

Yesterday he was watching his policy change come good from the launch site in Baikonur.

Discover more highlights from the launch day in our Storify.

Written by Roger Highfield