The report’s promise of greater involvement in crewed missions shows that Conservative Government thinking has shifted light years since 1987, when Roy Gibson quit as UK space chief after his spending proposals were vetoed, and the then Trade Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, declared the Government did not want to contribute to a mission to put a Frenchman into space.
Until now, the UK has preferred to focus on the commercial and scientific aspects of spaceflight through its satellite-building industry and its membership of the European Space Agency (ESA).
However, at the 2012 ESA Ministerial the UK Space Agency, established in 2010, made the UK’s first contribution to the International Space Station and ESA’s European Life and Physical Sciences Programme.
Last year the Agency pledged £49.2 million, which gives UK researchers access to the $100 billion International Space Station programme.
The new Strategy hints at even greater ambitions for UK manned missions: “The Agency will also consider its role in human exploration missions beyond Earth orbit.”
British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s maiden voyage, which was announced at the Science Museum, is expected in December of this year and this six month mission will mark the first time that a British astronaut has visited the ISS in what will be a highly-visible demonstration of UK ambition for human spaceflight.
However, Peake will not be the first Briton in space: that honour goes to Helen Sharman, who was launched in 1991to spend a week in the Mir space station.
Cosmonauts opens at the Science Museum on September 18 with the most significant collection of Soviet era spacecraft and ephemera ever assembled in one place, including the single cosmonaut moon lander, which was used for training and was kept secret for many years; the first spacecraft to carry more than one human into space; and the descent module of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.
Helen Sharman will join me and television presenter Dallas Campbell in the Royal Institution on July 30 to discuss the story of the spacesuit. Her Zvezda spacesuit will be among the 150 exhibits on display in Cosmonauts, which celebrates a wide range of space firsts.