The Space Heroes of Albion — Famous British Astronauts

4th Aug 2022
The Space Heroes of Albion — Famous British Astronauts

In this article, we look at who was the first British astronaut, how many British astronauts have been to space, and who had to stop a step away from the goal.

The UK joined the space race in 1962, only three years after the USA and USSR. We successfully launched several of our own satellites and the Black Arrow rocket, and in 1975 we co-founded the European Space Agency, joining forces in space exploration with 14 other countries. Today, ESA is the second-largest player in the space arena after NASA, and we are proud to be a part of it. Was building the UK astronauts corps one of our goals? No. But if you are called Great Britain, then you must be great in everything.

How many British astronauts have been to space?

The list of 600+ astronauts who have ever been in space includes six British-born astronauts and one South African with British citizenship. Two more Britons were preparing for a space flight, but, for various reasons, they never flew. Still, each of them made their own contribution to science and research, the popularization of space, and the enhancement of the UK’s image in the international arena. Who were they, these British space heroes?

List of British astronauts




First launch date


Helen Sharman

Grenoside, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Soyuz TM-12/11

18 May 1991


First British astronaut (and in particular, the first British cosmonaut) as well as the first woman to visit the Mir space station. Funded partially by private British citizens as Project Juno and by the Soviet Union.

Michael Foale

Louth, Lincolnshire

STS-45 (Atlantis)

STS-56 (Discovery)

STS-63 (Discovery)

STS-84/86 (Atlantis)

STS-103 (Discovery)

Soyuz TMA-3

24 March 1992


NASA astronaut. Born and grew up in the UK with dual UK/US citizenship, his mother being American. First British spacewalker. First Briton to both Mir and International Space Station.

Mark Shuttleworth

Welkom, Orange Free State, South Africa

Soyuz TM-34/33

27 April 2002

UK / South Africa

Self-funded space tourist to the International Space Station. Born South African, he also holds British citizenship.

Piers Sellers

Crowborough, Sussex

STS-112 (Atlantis)

STS-121 (Discovery)

STS-132 (Atlantis)

7 October 2002


NASA astronaut. Born and grew up in the UK, US citizen after 1991.

Nicholas Patrick

Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire

STS-116 (Discovery)

STS-130 (Endeavour)

9 December 2006


NASA astronaut. Born and grew up in the UK, US citizen since 1994.

Richard Garriott

Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Soyuz TMA-13/12

12 October 2008


Self-funded space tourist to the International Space Station. Born in the UK to American parents (son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott).

Timothy Peake

Chichester, West Sussex

Soyuz TMA-19M

15 December 2015


ESA astronaut. First British government-funded Briton in space and aboard the International Space Station.

John Anthony Llewellyn

Cardiff, Wales

NASA Astronaut Group 6 member

No mission


Welsh-born American scientist and a former NASA astronaut candidate. Dropped out of flight school and resigned from NASA in September 1968. Llewellyn needed to learn to fly jets, and was not able to fly the jet with a darkened cockpit.

Richard Alfred Farrimond

Birkenhead (Cheshire)

STS-61-H Columbia

Mission Cancelled


British engineer, former army officer and astronaut. Was supposed to fly in 1986 with Space Shuttle Columbia mission as a backup crew payload specialist, but mission was cancelled after Shuttle Challenger disaster in 28 January 1986.

One might ask why Gregory Johnson, pilot on the Space Shuttle (Endeavour) in STS 123 and 134 missions, is not on this list. Gregory is indeed one of the British-born astronauts, born in England, South Ruislip, Greater London, while his father was stationed at a US Air Force base, but he was never a UK citizen. That is why it would be a mistake to consider him a UK astronaut.

British female astronauts

Whether by irony or by providence, the first Briton to go into space was a woman. In 1989, 25-year-old Helen Sharman, a chemist in Mars company, responded to an ad looking for a British representative to take part in the Soviet-British science and space mission Juno. Just think about it! Helen was selected from 13,000 other applications! On May 18, 1991, after 18 months of gruelling training, a young lady, along with two Soviet cosmonauts, went to the Mir space station.

Sharman is not only the first UK astronaut but also the first woman to visit the Mir station. She spent 8 days on board doing agricultural and medical research. Upon returning home, Sharman received a star on Sheffield’s Walk of Fame, a Doctor of Science degree, and the Order of Friendship of Peoples. Since then, there have been no other female British astronauts, but we are certain there will be more soon enough.

How many British astronauts have gone into outer space?

Astronaut C. Michael Foale
Michael C. Foale, source

Four British astronauts have gone into outer space and spent a total of 87 hours there. Michael Foale was the first male Brit in space. Foale was born in England, received his PhD in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge, and in 1982, at the age of 26, moved to Houston, USA. A year later, he got a NASA job at the Lyndon Johnson Space Center. In 1987, Foale, on his second attempt, was enrolled in the NASA astronaut 12 corps. From 1992 to 2003, he made six space missions as part of the Space Shuttle and Soyuz crews, visited the Mir station, and even participated in its rescue from a collision with a cargo ship. He spent 375 days outside the Earth and made four spacewalks totaling 22 hours and 44 minutes. Foale still holds the record for a British citizen’s longest cumulative time in space.

What other British-born astronauts walked in outer space?

  • Pierce Sellers – 6 spacewalks with a total duration of 41 hours and 11 minutes.
  • Nicholas Patrick – 3 spacewalks of 18 hours and 14 minutes.
  • Timothy Peake – 1 spacewalk of 4 hours and 45 minutes.

How many British astronauts have been to the ISS?

UK astronauts

Helen Sharman and Michael Foale are the only UK astronauts who have been to the Mir station. But how many British astronauts have been to the ISS? ISS is the only home for US and European astronauts in space today. The station has been in low Earth orbit at the height of 200 km for almost 8,700 days, 8,000 of which it has been manned. There have been five British astronauts on the ISS:

  1. Pierce Sellers (36 days)
  2. Nicholas Patrick (27 days)
  3. Mark Shuttleworth (8 days).
  4. Richard Garriott (12 days)
  5. Timothy Peake (186 days)

Pierce Sellers

NASA British astronaut Pierce Sellers was born in Sussex and lived in England for 28 years before moving to the US in 1982 and joining NASA. He first worked as a research meteorologist at the Goddard Space Flight Center and, in 1996, was selected as an astronaut candidate. Sellers flew the ISS three times, in 2002, 2006, and 2010, spending a total of 850 hours in space. He left NASA in 2011 and spent another five years as Associate Director of Science and Research at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. In 2016, Sellers’ life was tragically cut short by pancreatic cancer. He was only 61 years old.

Nicholas Patrick

Nicholas Patrick was born and raised in Scotland, but then moved to the USA and became a US citizen in 1994. He began his career as an aeronautical engineer, then as a flight instructor, and in 1998, he was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate. Patrick flew the shuttle to ISS twice in 2006 and 2010, cumulatively spending over 640 hours in space. In 2012, Nick retired from the astronaut corps and joined the private aerospace company Blue Origin. He currently serves as Director of Flight for New Shepard and Senior Director of Human Integration at Blue Origin.

Timothy Peake

RAF test pilot Timothy Peake is the first and so far the only official ESA British astronaut to fly the ISS. In one of our previous articles, we’ve covered when did Tim Peake go to space and what missions he took part in. On May 20, 2009, he was selected, among six people, from 9,000 other applicants for the ESA astronaut corps of the fourth intake. He had to wait for his mission for almost six years. On December 15, 2015, Timothy Peake went to the ISS as part of Expedition 46. He stayed at the station for 186 days, conducted dozens of experiments, held broadcasts with schoolchildren and students, and even took a virtual part in the London Marathon, running 42 kilometres and 195 meters on the ISS treadmill.

Mark Shuttleworth

In 2002, Mark Shuttleworth, a British-South African dual citizen, and an IT entrepreneur, became the first UK astronaut to visit ISS as a tourist. He paid $20 million (about $30 million today) for an 8-day trip. On board the ISS, Mark participated in experiments related to AIDS and genome research and also held a communication session with the first president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and a terminally ill 14-year-old South African girl, Michelle Foster.

Richard Garriott

In 2008, ISS was visited by another tourist with both US and British citizenship, Richard Garriott. The son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott has dreamed of going to space since 1983, so when Space Adventures offered him this opportunity, he didn’t hesitate to pay $30 million for his 12-day space adventure.

Are there any other British astronauts who have been to the ISS? No. But today, tourist flights to space have almost become commonplace. Who knows, perhaps the next tourist on the ISS will once again be a Briton.

Have any British astronauts been to the Moon?

Many of our compatriots ask this logical question, but sadly, the answer is no. All 12 people who walked on the Moon were Americans. But there is a chance to go to the Moon as part of the new Artemis lunar program, in which our country is participating along with ESA and NASA. Stage 3 Artemis involves landing astronauts on the Moon after 2024. And who knows, perhaps the British will be among them!

Who was the last British person in space?

Tim Peake remains the last British astronaut to have been in space. After his only flight, he continued to work at the ESA European Astronaut Center in Cologne as the head of the astronaut task force. He continues to take an active part in the UK space life, encouraging the younger generation to work in the space industry, dreams of returning to space and flying to the Moon. Good luck, Tim! We are proud of you!

Current British astronauts

There were no British astronauts in space after Tim Peake. So, many people wonder if UK residents are eligible for this career path. Yes! We recently wrote about how to become an astronaut in the UK. In short, wait for the next ESA intake and apply. Perhaps soon, we will discover new names that will forever go down not only in the history of Great Britain, but also in the entire world of astronautics.

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