British astronaut Tim Peake opens new education centre at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage after announcing he will be returning to space

PUBLISHED: 13:43 26 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:07 27 January 2017

Astronaut Tim Peake speaks with Andy Stroomer from Stevenage's Airbus Defence & Space at the opening of the Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre.

Astronaut Tim Peake speaks with Andy Stroomer from Stevenage's Airbus Defence & Space at the opening of the Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre.

Archant

On the day he announced his return to space, British astronaut Tim Peake opened a brand new education centre at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage.

Pupils were invited to Stevenage's Airbus Defence & Space as astronaut Tim Peake opened the Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre.Pupils were invited to Stevenage's Airbus Defence & Space as astronaut Tim Peake opened the Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre.

In a surprise announcement made at London’s Science Museum this morning, the astronaut said he was ‘incredibly excited’ to be returning for a second stint on the International Space Station.

He then rushed to Stevenage by train – rather than spaceship – where guests and a large national press pack greeted him at Airbus’ Mars Yard, where prototype Mars rovers are being tested for future missions to the Red Planet.

Built adjoining the Mars Yard and it’s simulated Martian surface, the Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre will allow school pupils from across the UK to learn about concepts such as movement, gravity and orbit with a series of exhibits and user friendly games and experiments.

Today pupils with special educational needs were invited to the centre – which will be run by North Herts College – to meet Major Peake and try out the experiments.

Major Peake, who piloted a Mars rover in Stevenage while still in space last year, said: “It’s a huge honour to be here this morning to open the new Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre.

“I’m glad to see that Mars rover Bridget is still in one piece after my poor skills driving it from the International Space Station.

“Hopefully that helped highlight just how important it is to encourage the next generation to get involved in STEM subjects and help focus the next generation of scientists and explorers.”

The Centre was paid for by a grant of £1 million from Hertfordshire LEP and will be operated with cash from the Airbus Foundation, a charity associated with the firm.

Tim Peake in Stevenage.Tim Peake in Stevenage.

The centre will offer Key Stage 2 programmes to start with and will cater for mainstream pupils, as well as those with special educational needs.

It will reach out to pupils across the UK, many of whom will be invited to Stevenage for special discovery sessions.

Older students and apprentices will be able to use the centre as a base to develop their skills by tapping into the skills used on the ExoMars missions which will see a Stevenage-built Mars rover land on the Red Planet in 2020.

Major Peake became Britain’s first official astronaut in December 2015 and spent six months on board the ISS.

North Herts College principal Matt Hamnett at the new Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre which the college is running in partnership with Airbus Defence and Space.North Herts College principal Matt Hamnett at the new Airbus Foundation Discovery Space STEM Centre which the college is running in partnership with Airbus Defence and Space.

During his 186 days there, the father-of-two carried out more than 250 scientific experiments, ran the London Marathon on a treadmill, and inspired more than a million schoolchildren with educational outreach activities.

It is not yet clear when he will be returning to space.

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