A Russian rocket carrying British astronaut Tim Peake into space has blasted off from Kazakhstan in a spectacular display of fire and thunder.
The 305-tonne Soyuz launch rocket took off into a clear sky from the same spot on the Baikonur Cosmodrome where the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, was shot into orbit in 1961.
Rising slowly at first from a conflagration of smoke and flames, the rocket quickly picked up speed until it became a bright star fading from sight.
After one minute, it was soaring upwards at 1,000mph and crashing through the sound barrier.
Two minutes into the flight, the four first-stage boosters strapped around the rocket fuselage were jettisoned.
Major Peake’s wife, Rebecca, two sons, Thomas, six, and Oliver, four, and other members of his family watched the take-off from a VIP viewing area about a mile (1.7km) from the launch pad.
Representatives of the world’s media observed from an adjacent viewing platform.
Major Peake, 43, and his crew companions, Russian Commander Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Tim Kopra, entered the tiny Soyuz TMA-19 space capsule capping the top of the rocket two and half hours before the launch.
Conditions were perfect with clear, blue skies and hardly a breath of wind.
At blast-off, the rocket generated 422.5 tonnes of thrust - equivalent to 26 million horse power.
It took just six minutes for the second stage of the rocket to separate and eight minutes for the Soyuz capsule to detach and enter preliminary orbit.
News that the craft had entered space was greeted with rapturous applause by friends and relatives on the ground who hugged each other with relief.
Rebecca was heard to say: “Wasn’t it an amazing sight? I had the biggest smile on my face.”
At a press conference yesterday Major Peake told how he was eagerly looking forward to seeing the earth from his capsule in space.
He said: “I don’t think anything can really prepare you for that moment.”
The crew will take six hours to rendezvous with the International Space Station, which passed directly over the launch site just before lift-off.
Prior to docking, they have to catch up with the space station, which travels at 17,500mph at an average altitude of 220 miles.
Former army aviator and helicopter test pilot Major Peake is the first Briton to join the crew of the ISS.
His mission, called Prinicipia in homage to Sir Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking text on gravity and motion, will last almost six months.