Britain could finance manned Mars mission
By Katie Scott | Wired.co.uk
The UK could lift its long-standing veto on manned space flights as it considers creating a British rival to Nasa called Her Majesty’s Space Agency.
A review of the country's space strategy, due to be announced tomorrow morning by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, aims "to thrust the UK space sector forward for the next 40 years and beyond".
The announcement is timed to coincide with celebrations around the world marking the 40th anniversary of Nasa’s Apollo 11 mission and Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk.
In an interview with Wired.co.uk, Drayson said that the review would not result in a larger budget for space research in the UK, but could reverse the country's refusal to fund manned missions. He said the European Space Agency’s (ESA) selection of a British astronaut, Tim Peake, for its astronaut training programme and the agency's work towards a mission to Mars would help to capture the public imagination.
"We need to get the next generation excited about the idea of missions to Mars, as one of the people who might go from this country is probably a teenager today," he said. "We should keep a focus of the areas that we are good at – building satellites, space science, building probes etc – but also consider the probability of a British person going to Mars."
To date, the UK has only supported robotic explorations in space, and stipulated that the £180 million that it pays towards the work of ESA is not used for manned space programmes. As a result, the first Briton in space, Helen Sharman, travelled to the Mir space station on a Soviet rocket in 1991 as part of a privately funded mission. Other Britons who have also reached space did so by changing their nationality to become American or by going as space tourists with Russian space shuttles.
Drayson hopes to change this stance, but acknowledged that any UK manned mission would be the result of a collaboration with other nations. "Reaching Mars will be a huge scientific challenge but it won’t be done without a global effort," he said.
The consultation will also look at whether the current UK space body, British National Space Centre (BNSC), should be replaced by a new British space agency. Drayson suggested that the new agency will be called Her Majesty’s Space Agency.
In a statement, his department said: "The BNSC has helped the UK to build a hugely successful sector which is second only to the USA in space science, contributes £6.5 billion a year to the UK economy and supports 68,000 jobs.
"However, as the world becomes increasingly dependent on advances in space science and in order to safeguard the UK’s 'critical mass' of skills and expertise, today’s consultation is seeking views on the appetite for a single agency to better co-ordinate the UK’s civil space strategy."
The Government’s announcement comes one day before the official launch of the first European Space Agency facility in the UK. The International Space Innovation Centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire, which opens on Wednesday, will focus on finding everyday applications for space technologies, as well as power sources and robotics which could be used to explore the Moon and Mars.
It also comes less than a month after the Government announced the creation of the Space Innovation Growth Team (Space IGT). According to the BBC, the panel "...has been asked to lay out the challenges and opportunities facing the British space industry”.
The review due to be announced tomorrow morning is expected to produce preliminary findings by the end of the year and a full report in early 2010.
Online editing by Holden Frith
PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr CC: Bluedharma
Article from: Wired.co.uk
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