There’s was an article on BBC Online recently which had an interview with Alan Thirkettle, who is a Brit working for the European Space Agency (Esa), where he says the UK urgently needs to get into manned space flight.
I, personally, think that space developments are one of several strands of research that will massively change humanity in the future. Not simply because it will focus us out, looking beyond our planet, but it will help solve some of current and upcoming problems. Overcrowding, draining resources and, lest we forget, the old ‘all your eggs in one basket idea.’ If we establish a base somewhere else as well as on Earth, chances are the human race will be able to live on should anything catastrophic happen.
I’m not sure we necessarily need to develop our own programme (we could never afford it), nor even have our own astronauts, but certainly working with other space agencies on manned projects where out technical teams and perhaps some of our personnel can learn, develop and have input on various aspects would be good. For long term development, if nothing else.
At the moment I can only think of a handful of agencies, all government-owned, that have the resources to put a man into space. The Americans have NASA, obviously well-capable, being the only agency that has put someone on the moon, and has been given the resources to do it again. The European Space Agency, the Chinese, the Indians are nearly there, the Japanese probably aren’t far off technically, although they again lack the resources and the Russians, who just lack the money, but certainly have the know-how. Given how much it costs to get into space I’m very surprised more nations haven’t banded together. Esa is basically a conglomerate of different nations who all give an amount of money to it’s running costs. Certainly the UK could take a more active role there. Why not bring the like of the Russians and Japanese into that deal too? I’m not sure the Americans would join purely because I think they have political reasons for getting back into space. I don’t think the Chinese would join even if the others would let them (I think there would be problems with both the Indians and Chinese joining for fear they might borrow some of the new technology they have access to in order to improve their weapons programmes). Then you have the private enterprises, like Ariane, who have lots of experience building rockets and satellites.
It seems a bit daft having separate teams of skilled technicians working on the same problem when they could probably work more efficiently by using their overlapping skills to fill in each other’s flaws and then work together on what is left.
Overall I’m not massively concerned about the UK not having a team of astronauts. We’re already one of the world leaders in aerospace and satellite development. I would like to see us taking on a few more missions, leading them perhaps, but we are still a long way from manned space flight becoming routine and so we’ve got time to become experts at it and if there’s one thing the UK doesn’t lack it’s brain power.