Britain should set up a manned space exploration programme, a government advisory committee said on Thursday. If the recommendations were implemented, British astronauts could travel to the International Space Station by 2014 and walk on the Moon in the 2020s.
The UK Space Exploration Working Group was set up by the British National Space Centre in January to look at the role Britain should play in the worldwide plans for future space exploration, laid out in the Global Exploration Strategy.
Fourteen national space agencies have signed up to the global strategy that would see humans and robots working in partnership on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, while fleets of unmanned probes venture out across the far reaches of the solar system.
SEWG, a committee of scientists and experts from universities and industry, concluded that Britain could not afford to miss out. “For the first time in history the world’s space agencies are planning to work together on the human exploration of the Moon, Mars and perhaps asteroids, with accompanying robotic missions to prepare the way,” said Frank Close of Oxford University, the group’s chairman.
“This is not science fiction – it is the real thing,” Prof Close added. “A high-profile, UK-branded presence in human space exploration would engage British society in the full excitement of space exploration and help to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers.”
The report said the first stage would be a five-year programme, running between 2010 and 2015, under which two British astronauts would fly aboard the International Space Station. They would carry out experiments in life sciences, medicine, lunar geology and aerospace engineering – working with a substantial university research programme.
The total cost for the first five years would be between £50m and £75m. This preparatory phase would not require a huge increase in current UK government spending of about £200m a year on civil space activities.
But costs would rise steeply in subsequent years, if the UK “wishes to take advantage of the excellent scientific opportunities …in the period beyond 2020 when there are [international] plans to establish a permanently crewed lunar outpost”, SEWG said.
The recommendations would require the government to reverse a policy originating with the Thatcher government in the 1980s, to keep Britain out of manned space flight.
David Williams, the director-general of the British National Space Centre, said he discussed the findings with Ian Pearson, the science minister, this week. “There is no decision yet but a willingness [in government] to consider the recommendations,” he said.
Browne: Global agency is needed
The world should create an international climate agency to co-ordinate action against global warming, Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive, told the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in York in his presidential address. Its responsibilities would include setting a long-term goal for stabilising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; setting carbon emission targets and allowances; monitoring and verification; and providing incentives for developing countries to invest in clean energy.
“This is an ambitious proposal,” said Lord Browne, who has just become managing partner of Riverstone Holdings, a US private equity firm. “It would require stretching international legal norms to the limit of understanding and practice. And it would require governments to refind [a] sense of global collective endeavour.”
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