Could Signal End To Britain's Refusal To Fund Manned
The United Kingdom's new
Science Minister, Malcolm Wicks, says his country should reconsider
its long-standing refusal to fund manned space missions.
The UK will be an active participant in NASA's plans to return
astronauts to the Moon and beyond to Mars, but the country has no
plans to field astronauts -- Wicks says some of those going the
Moon and Mars should be British.
Calling it "this millennium's great adventure," Wicks is urging
his government to be more open-minded about getting involved in
manned exploration projects.
In an interview with UK's Times Online, Wicks said the country
has no immediate plans to send Britons into space, but the UK's
presumption that such missions are always a waste of money should
no longer apply.
Wicks said, "I think we need to think that through. I think
sometimes our understandable reluctance to fund British men and
women going into space has come across wrongly as us being a bit
cool about space. I think we should be hot and enthusiastic."
He added, "It’s going to be this millennium’s great
adventure. I’m not changing our position on this now, but I
think it would be foolish to be dogmatic about these things."
In the past, the UK government's official position ruled human
spaceflight unworthy of the costs or risks to life. The country's
budget for its space program in 2005-2006 was a little over $400
million, but the majority of that went to robotic missions such as
Mars Express and Huygens (below), the lander sent to Saturn's
largest moon Titan from the Cassini spacecraft.
Three British-born astronauts -- Michael Foale, Piers Sellers
and Nicholas Patrick -- have flown on the US space shuttle, but
only after first achieving US citizenship. The one and only UK
citizen to fly into space was Helen Sharman who went to the Mir
space station in 1991.
Pressure from the country's scientific community is growing to
lift the ban on manned spaceflight. A report last year from the
Royal Astronomical Society found, "There is science of profound
interest to humankind that can only be pursued on the Moon and Mars
by the direct involvement of humans in situ."
Wicks said that Britain could not afford to "build our own
rocket and fire it to the Moon," but asked, "Should we be close to
the space explorations around the world? Of course we should."
According to the Times Online, talks between Wicks and NASA's
Michael Griffin for UK collaboration on the US agency's upcoming
manned missions to the Moon and Mars are already under way, with
Wicks refusing to rule out British astronauts.
Wicks enthused about a recent visit to the UK by Discovery
crewmembers, including Piers Sellers. Wicks said, "It was really
great that those . . . astronauts were over here. It is a great way
of exciting British children with science."