Britain's first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut hopes his mission will inspire a new generation to take up careers linked to space exploration.

In a little over five weeks, Tim Peake, 43, will embark on a six-month stint on the International Space Station (ISS), leaving Earth on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Peake is technically the first British citizen to become an astronaut. Although a handful of Brits have been to space with Nasa before, due to the complicated legalities of space travel they had to change their citizenship to American.

At his final pre-flight press conference at the Science Museum in London, the former military test pilot praised his rigorous training, and insisted yesterday that he was only nervous about forgetting something.

On launch day, of course there's going to be some apprehension.

You're sat on top of 300 tonnes of fuel and you're basically just going to be focused on the mission and what's to come. It's important to say goodbye to friends and family and just draw a line and really focus.

A key aspect of the mission's link to the UK will be to engage with every school in the country and offer lessons about Peake's work.

He will take part in a series of experiments - some calling on him to become a "guinea pig" to research asthma, the immune system and the ageing process - and talk to the public about his work through social media, including Twitter, where he already has more than 50,000 followers:

He said there was nothing to stop British children of today becoming the first people to set foot on Mars.

I left school at 18 and decided to become a pilot. Many people may have said at the time that was a bad choice - that you should be going to university, you should be getting a higher education.

For me, it worked out great - it was what I wanted to do, it was what I was passionate about - and I was able to get a degree later in life.

Mr Peake will follow in the footsteps of Helen Sharman, who travelled to space in 1991 on a privately funded venture.

Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said it was a truly proud moment for the UK, and the Government was eager to exploit the education benefits. He said: "This is our moonshot moment as a country."

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