Comment »Posted on Tuesday 21 July 2009 at 9:52 am by Jacob Aron
In Science Policy, Space & Astronomy

I really must stop with that headline, but I just can’t help myself. Last weekend, science minister Lord Drayson announced that Britain is to officially support human space-flight. In the reversal of a decades-old government policy, British citizens will now receive funding to become astronauts. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Drayson said:

“Britain should be playing a full role in space exploration. There was a special fund for training astronauts and we did not contribute, but that is now changed. There are important benefits that come from manned space-flight and we have dropped our opposition. We have an astronaut entering training soon and I hope he will be the first of many.”

Army test pilot Tim Peake became the first European Space Agency astronaut earlier this year, and it is thought that Drayson used Peake’s appointment as leverage for the policy change.

Drayson has always been in favour of human space-flight, and is also considering the expansion of the British National Space Centre from just 30 civil servants into a full-blown space agency. However, The Observer reports that there will be no extra money for this “British NASA”, making me wonder how this expansion might actually happen. He said:

“We spend around £250m a year of public money on space projects, and that generates more than £6bn for the economy in terms of contracts for the manufacture of satellites, robotics and other industrial work. We get a tremendous bang for the buck when it comes to space, but we have to ask if there is a better way to do it.”

If the current return on investment is 2400%, surely a small increase of cash would be worth it? Either way, it seems we can expect more Brits heading to space in the coming years.


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