Astronaut Tim Peake drives UK-based robot from orbit on ISS

Tim Peake has successfully taken control of a UK-based robot while orbiting the Earth from space in a pioneering experiment.

Major Tim Peake has taken control of the newest Mars rover Bridget  from space, driving it around a UK hangar. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Major Tim Peake has taken control of the newest Mars rover Bridget from space, driving it around a UK hangar. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The British astronaut began remotely driving the explorer this afternoon through a simulated Martian landscape.

Working from aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Major Peake took control of the ExoMars rover, guiding it around the fake rocky landscape in the hangar at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The ExoMars rover is slated for launch in 2018 and will take nine months to reach Mars, using parachutes to land safely on the surface.

It will be the first rover sent to Mars specifically designed to find evidence of past or present life.

The rover is nicknamed Bridget after 1960s’ French movie star Brigitte Bardot.

In total, Major Peake had 100 minutes to complete the task of successfully manoeuvring through the darkness.

Both the US space agency rovers on the Red Planet today, and those planned in coming years, use a high level of autonomy. Once instructed to go to a location, the vehicles will sense their surroundings and compute the most efficient route.

The scenario in Friday’s simulation is the possibility that one day an astronaut in orbit above Mars could assist a surface robot in investigating a location that engineers would normally try to avoid.

Earlier, Science Minister Jo Johnson explored “Mars” for himself and praised Major Peake for “inspiring hundreds of thousands if not millions” of young people into STEM subjects through his outreach work from aboard the ISS.

Mr Johnson, speaking at a hangar at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, which is built to resemble the red planet, said it was “great to be here on Mars, or at least the Mars yard”.

He added: “It’s an exciting day for Tim Peake and everyone in our country.”

The minister went on: “We’ll soon have the first European vehicle on Mars and it’s going to be made here in Stevenage, helping secure 4,000 jobs in the European space centre through Airbus here in the UK. It is a tremendous boost to our space sector for which we have very big ambitions as a Government.”

Major Peake tweeted on Thursday: “Looking forward to giving rover Bridget in Stevenage, UK, a test-drive from space.”

The European Space Agency astronaut is also carrying out a series of experiments on himself to help scientists understand the impact of space flight on the human body and assist with future missions to Mars.

Major Peake blasted into space last December and into the record books the following month after becoming the first British person to walk in space.

Since arriving on the International Space Station, the former Army officer has sent a number of video messages back to Earth and last week ran the London Marathon using an on-board treadmill.