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British Astronaut Hopes to Inspire Mars Interest

British astronaut Tim Peake poses before a news conference at the Science Museum in London, Nov. 6, 2015.

The man who will become the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station said Friday that he hoped his mission would inspire young Britons to one day journey to Mars.

Tim Peake, 43, a former army major, will blast off on a six-month mission for the European Space Agency in December, the first Briton to go into space since Helen Sharman traveled on a Soviet spacecraft for eight days in 1991.

"After a gap of 24 years since Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station, the Union [Jack] flag is going to be flown and worn in space once again," Peake told reporters. "What that means is that there's nothing to stop the schoolkids in Great Britain today from being amongst the first men and women to set on foot on Mars in the future."

Peake said he would be carrying out a series of scientific experiments, including some medical research in which he would be a "human guinea pig."

The Briton, selected as an astronaut in 2009, will launch from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission is titled Principia after Isaac Newton's groundbreaking Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which describes the principal laws of motion and gravity.

Britain originally opted out of the European program for human spaceflight but reversed its decision in 2012.

The space station is a laboratory in which an international crew of six people live and work while traveling at a speed of 5 miles per second, orbiting Earth every 90 minutes.

It was launched in 1998 and has been continuously occupied since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people from 15 countries have visited.

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