Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Part 1 We reach for the stars, will Britain go there? - Moon, Mars and the stars Beyond

Well I am planning to post this in two parts as it is quite long, so here goes. This part focuses on the UK, while the next part will cover other nations programmes

Well an interesting report was released by Royal Astronomical Society recently calling for the UK to support manned space missions

The main conclusions of the RAS report are below

* The essential scientific case for Human Space Exploration is based on investigations on the Moon and Mars. There are three key scientific challenges where direct human involvement will be necessary for a timely and successful outcome:
- Mapping the history of the solar system (including the young Earth) and the evolution of our Sun by studying the unique signatures left on and beneath the lunar surface;
- The search for life on Mars;- Detailed, planet-wide exploration of Mars.

* Scientific missions to the Moon and Mars will address questions of profound interest to the human race. These include: the origins and history of the solar system; whether life is unique to Earth; and how life on Earth began. If our close neighbour, Mars, is found to be devoid of life, important lessons may be learned regarding the future of our own planet.

* While the exploration of the Moon and Mars can and is being addressed by unmanned missions, the capabilities of robotic spacecraft will fall well short of those of human explorers for the foreseeable future.

* Assuming a human presence, the Moon offers an excellent site for astronomy, with the far-side and polar regions of the Moon being shielded from the "pollution" from Earth.

* Medical science will benefit from studying the human physiological response to low and zero gravity, to the effects of radiation and in the psychological challenge posed by a long-duration mission to Mars.

* There appear to be no fundamental technological barriers to sending humans to the Moon or Mars.

* A major international human space exploration programme involving a return to the Moon and the longer term aim of sending humans to Mars is likely to involve the US, Europe, Russia and Japan. There are also growing ambitions in China and India. Under present government policy the UK would not be involved and would look increasingly isolated.

* The cost of the UK playing a full role in an international human space exploration programme to explore the Moon and Mars could be of the order £150M per year, sustained over 20-25 years. It is not realistic for the bulk of this to be taken from the existing Government-funded science budget. Rather, a decision to be involved should be taken on the basis of broader strategic reasoning that would include commercial, educational, social, and political arguments as well as the scientific returns that would follow.

* There is compelling evidence that the outreach potential for human space exploration can be a strong positive influence on the interests and educational choices of children.

* Involvement in technologically advanced exploration of the solar system will provide a high profile challenge for UK industry, with consequent benefits in recruitment of new engineers and scientists. Evidence from NASA and ESA surveys have shown a significant economic multiplier from investment in space projects, with an additional overall gain in competitiveness.

This report does seem to be compelling, there is a strong possibility that the UK would fall behind in this area if it does not invest now. Many nations after a long lull are beginning to start on the road towards space again. China has just completed mission puting Taikonauts into space for the second time, with eventual plans to land on the moon, possible base as well. The United states has also announced plan to return to the moon and eventually put a man on mars, while russia is beginning to rebuild as well, after decline during 1990s.

I will publish the second part soon, covering the space programmes of most major nations

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