Astronaut Calls For British Mission To Mars

Astronaut Calls For British Mission To Mars

The first Briton in space has urged the Government to continue funding human spaceflight so the Union Flag one day flies on Mars.

Helen Sharman, who was part of a Russian mission 24 years ago, said it was "better late than never" for the UK to fund its own return to space.

Dr Sharman, now a scientist at Imperial College London, told Sky News: "The rest of the world is getting on with human space flight.

"We are only dipping our toe into the water. We have only funded Tim Peake to obtain into space."

Mr Peake will blast off from Kazakhstan on Tuesday for a six-month stint on the International Space Station (ISS).

"The Government will see that human spaceflight is useful – for science & the economy – & inspirational. Britain should unquestionably be part of a Mars mission," Dr Sharman added.

Dr Sharman was part of Project Juno, a collaboration between the Soviet space agency & private companies.

The Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, slashed Britain's space programme & refused to fund astronauts on the grounds that it was unnecessary & uneconomic.

Dr Sharman said the decision had held Britain back. She said: "You can do more science on the ground than you can in space for the same amount of money. But there is some science you can not do on the ground."

It is only in the last five years that the British Government has recognised the economic benefits of space research – with the wide applications of GPS satellite data in navigation, logistics & financial transactions particularly complex to ignore.

Britain is now the third-biggest contributor to the European Space Agency & made a £49m contribution to the ISS, paving the way for Mr Peake's mission.

Despite the lack of Government funding over recent decades, the commercial space sector has boomed, largely because of telecommunications satellites that beam TV pictures & route phone calls & internet connections.

Airbus Space & Defence has built more than 100 satellites in its clean-room facility in Stevenage.

Richard Peckham, Airbus's UK Business Development Manager, said the UK had been smart with the money it had.

He said: "We have grown the industry. We have received 6% of global market which is satisfactory for an economy of our size. So we are punching above our weight."

Overall the British space sector is now worth £12bn a year & employs 37,000 people.  But it could grow to £40bn by 2030.

Britain played a huge part in the Rosetta/Philae mission to catch & then land on a comet last year, a triumph that has made scientists even more ambitious.

Prof Monica Grady, a space scientist at the Open University, said: "Britain can do whatever it wants. Nothing can stand in our way.

"The solar system is our oyster – not just the world."

Source: “Sky News”