Issue 11, 1 September 2006 -- 37th Apollo Anniversary Year

  1. Debate: What direction for UK space policy?
  2. Debate: UK space policy -- Let's inspire the younger generation!, by Simon Evetts
  3. Debate: UK space policy -- Analysis of the options, by Stephen Ashworth
  4. Art exhibition: "The Starry Messenger" -- Space art at Compton Verney

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(1) Debate: What direction for UK space policy?

by Stephen Ashworth

How could we in Britain contribute most effectively to the exploration and development of space?

Or (a different question): how could we gain most for Britain from the exploration and development of space?

Or (another different -- but more realistic -- question): what realistic advice on the British Space Strategy should we be giving to our constituency MP, the BNSC, the Minister for Space and the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

As Jerry Stone wrote recently (2 August), on the subject of the UK and manned spaceflight: "The RAS Commission on Human Spaceflight came up with a number of reasons for the UK to reverse its long-standing opposition to involvement in this area. The recent meeting at the BIS agreed, as did the public who voted on the BBC website. There have been other indications that the tide of opinion is turning and that the UK should have the opportunity to benefit as our European neighbours do."

In other words, many people are tending to answer the three questions I posed above by calling for the UK to rejoin the European astronaut corps, with the expectation of being able to fly a small number of Britons to the International Space Station for scientific, particularly medical, research. One suggestion is that two astronauts might fly over a period of three years.

Yet there remains a diversity of opinion. The Mars Society UK remains strongly focused on Mars, and sees the possibilities for UK astronautics in this light. Meanwhile the Royal Aeronautical Society's provisional conclusion so far (as at the beginning of this year) leaned more towards supporting commercial passenger spaceflight to low Earth orbit.

In his document "The Case for UK Support of Human Spaceflight", available for download at http://www.geocities.com/spaceflight_uk/Human_Spaceflight.html, Jerry Stone names the eight countries which currently make up the European astronaut corps, and asks: "Are all these countries wrong in their belief in the value of human spaceflight, or is it the UK that is out of step?"

The greatest value of manned spaceflight cited there is its inspirational effect on the younger generation. The excitement of the Apollo missions caused large numbers of students to turn to studying science, technology and maths, enabling a wealth-creating technology boom in the USA. Meanwhile Britain over the past 15 years has seen a major fall of interest away from physics, chemistry and maths at A-level and degree level.

Clearly the Space Minister is irrelevant -- this assessment of Britain's educational state suggests that it is the Dept of Education that should be funding British astronauts!

-- Stephen Ashworth

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(2) Debate: UK space policy -- Let's inspire the younger generation!

by Simon Evetts, 2 August 2006

I'd like to support Jerry Stone's point concerning the attractiveness of "space" and its ability to inspire youngsters to study science. As a space life scientist I have presented at schools (as I am sure a number of you also have), and space must be one of the top 3 or 4 most attractive subjects to kids, they love it! We have 100s (maybe 1000s?) of people involved in space engineering, electronics and other hard sciences and many in the soft sciences, but what inspires the kids I talk to is whether they could actually go into space (not what space jobs they could do on the ground). The key point is that there must be the possibility (even if it is remote) for a Briton to float about in micro-G for the kids to be really inspired. It's not what I do that gets the kids' attention, it's the pictures and video footage of me bobbing about weightless that grabs them.

With regard to this one issue (inspiring kids), to my mind, whether Britain follows a government-funded astronaut programme or a private sector "tourist" programme, the key is to have UK professionals who actually visit or work in space, however they get up there. It is these jobs that will lead to an increase in science interest and motivate older kids to go to uni to get the necessary qualifications to be an "astronaut" (whether it be astro-physician, engineer, psychologist or whatever). The increase in science activities and all its associated spin offs and the positive effect on UK industry will benefit everyone.

As an outsider of this [discussion] group, it appears to me that group members are all after the same thing: getting Britain involved in human space activities. If some of us British space advocates work towards a government plan and others work more in line with the burgeoning private sector programmes, I think we will get there in all likelihood through both means. Lets champion both!

-- Simon N. Evetts BA (Hons) MSc PhD
Senior Lecturer Exercise Sciences
Health and Exercise Sciences Group
Faculty of Health and Human Sciences
Thames Valley University
(Advance Projects Lead [Space Medicine],
European Astronaut Centre from Sept).

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(3) Debate: UK space policy -- Analysis of the options

by Stephen Ashworth

Too often, proposals that the UK should increase its involvement in space exploration or utilisation adhere to the following format: the speaker advances his or her special interest in space, presents arguments in its favour, and ignores the alternatives. (I, too, have been guilty of this.)

But an intelligent approach requires an objective comparison of all the options, and a rational ordering of priorities based on the costs and benefits to the UK of those options.

Here, I do not argue for any course of action. Rather, I attempt a first draft of the pros and cons of the different options. It will be up to those with more technical knowledge than myself to refine this survey, if they so desire.

The options

What are the realistic near-term options for the UK government in space? The Default Option is to maintain existing commitments unchanged. But what alternative policies are possible?

The public debate so far has tended to focus on a single question: whether the British government should change its current policy of not being involved in manned spaceflight -- this was the focus of the RAS and RAeS studies. Obviously, the debate should be far broader than this, given that there are a number of other important possibilities.

The options for the UK include:

Obviously, these six options for change (and other variants which one might propose, such as prizes on the X-Prize model, or a government astronaut programme outside the framework of ESA) all represent desirable things. Further, the pursuit of one generally tends to enable another (e.g. adopting the Biomedical Option clearly makes easier a subsequent decision to pursue the Manned Moon-Mars Option, all other things being equal).

But the financial and political constraints suggest that, in the next few years, only one of these options is likely to be adopted. (But see Simon Evetts, above, for the contrary view.)

How should one evaluate the pros and cons? They clearly depend upon two sets of factors: the future developments which one anticipates will be important, and -- since a political decision is being asked for -- the government's political goals for the nation.

These factors are of course matters of vision and judgement, not of fact.

Future developments

What important future developments in space may be in prospect over the next 10 to 20 years? They include:

Although not new developments, I would suggest that we should also keep in mind the following highly relevant factors:

The political goals

What are the relevant political goals which any UK government is likely to have for the nation? Clearly, they include, amongst other things:

These suggest to my mind (though not necessarily to others) that maximising the benefit to Britain involves:

Obviously, these processes have a tendency to occur spontaneously without government intervention (as the case of Virgin Galactic illustrates). But any British government has an interest in promoting British industry -- note Tony Blair's recent high-profile visit to California to fly the flag for British business -- and space activities are therefore possible candidates for public-private partnerships.

Analysis of the options -- advantages versus disadvantages

The Biomedical Option -- PRO

The Biomedical Option -- CONTRA

The Manned Moon-Mars Option -- PRO

The Manned Moon-Mars Option -- CONTRA

The Spaceplane Option -- PRO

The Spaceplane Option -- CONTRA

The Robotic Moon-Mars Option -- PRO

The Robotic Moon-Mars Option -- CONTRA

The Solar Option -- PRO

The Solar Option -- CONTRA

The Asteroid Option -- PRO

The Asteroid Option -- CONTRA

Obviously, I have included every benefit and drawback which occurred to me, and in no particular order. No doubt I have missed some, and maybe exaggerated others.

The next stage of analysis would entail assigning weights to these factors in order to enable some rough quantitative comparison of the options, but I shall not attempt that here.

-- Stephen Ashworth

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(4) Art exhibition: "The Starry Messenger" -- Space art at Compton Verney

The Compton Verney art gallery, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, UK, is currently hosting an exhibition of space art, "The Starry Messenger".

The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, photography, music, sculpture, video installations, and a collection of science fiction magazines. Artists include Glenn Brown, John Cage, John Flamsteed, Graham Gussin, David A. Hardy, William Kentridge, Steve McQueen, Aleksandra Mir, Heather and Ivan Morison, John Murphy, John Russell, Bridget Smith, Wolfgang Tillmans and Fred Tomaselli. Also featured is commissioned work by Paul McDevitt and Mark Titchner.

Further details on the Compton Verney website at http://www.comptonverney.org.uk.

David A. Hardy writes: "several of my early 50s paintings are on show, and they seem to create a lot of interest; one of them, which you may see at http://www.hardyart.demon.co.uk/pages-gallery2/early.html even shows a UK spaceport at Woomera!"

The exhibition is open Tues.-Sun. 10am-5pm, until 10 September.

-- S.A.

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