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Space Government Politics

Commission Suggests UK Should End Astronaut Ban 233

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the who-could-resist-the-allure-of-spaceflight dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to the BBC a British scientific panel has recommended that the British Government should end its ban on human space flight. The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) Commission pursued a 9-month investigation into 'The Scientific Case for Human Space Flight'. Professor Frank Close, Chair of the Commission, said, 'We commenced this study without preconceived views and with no formal connection to planetary exploration. Our personal backgrounds made us lean towards an initial skepticism on the scientific value of human involvement in such research.' The commission concluded that 'profound scientific questions relating to the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond Earth can best - perhaps only - be achieved by human exploration on the Moon or Mars, supported by appropriate automated systems.'"
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Commission Suggests UK Should End Astronaut Ban

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  • ehhh.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SkankinMonkey (528381) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:30AM (#13824787)
    Isn't the real question - Why was it banned in the first place?
    • Re:ehhh.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:39AM (#13824815) Homepage Journal
      Because it was considered by just about every scientist alive at the time of Apollo that there was absolutely no scientific value in sending a man to the Moon. Not just British scientists but Americian scientists too held this opinion. Many still hold this opinion today.
      • Re:ehhh.... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by TheRealSync (701599)
        But believing there is no scientific value in going to the moon doesn't really justify a ban, there must have been more to it, or..?
        • Money (Score:5, Interesting)

          by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:57AM (#13824867) Journal
          There is a limited supply of it. The question is, do you focus on the automated robotics or on the human missions?

          A good example is that GWB is gearing NASA to spend heavily on the moon shot. So they just fired 300 top engineers at JPL. JPL has done a fair number of the automated systems. I would expect that the private enterprise will pick these ppl up. Most have a great deal of talent and interest.

          The moon shot will costs more than a 100 billion dollars to get us back there. Hopefully this time, we do not dismantle such an expensive set-up.
          • The moon shot will costs more than a 100 billion dollars to get us back there

            Unless I see the accounting figures broken down on paper, I cannot fathom such a missing costing 100 billion. It's not like we need to start from scratch all over again. The research and development has been done. The only major costs associated nowdays should be mainly hardware and administration.

            Basically.

            1. Refine old Saturn rocket technology using computer CAD models and simulations.

            2. Build it. Retooling machinery needed to ma
            • Re:Money (Score:5, Interesting)

              by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:09AM (#13825056) Journal
              Unless I see the accounting figures broken down on paper, I cannot fathom such a missing costing 100 billion. It's not like we need to start from scratch all over again. The research and development has been done. The only major costs associated nowdays should be mainly hardware and administration.

              Ok, lets look at what those 4 steps entail.
              First off, we will be creating 2 rockets from the current shuttle stack.
              That means that the solid BOOSTER will now be turned into a man capable rocket. In order to get a human rating (vs. just freight), requires a great deal more tests. You have heard about all the issues of the Airbus A-380, right? Well, this is far more rigorous.

              In addition to creating the rocket, we will have to create a CEV; A crew exploration vehicle.
              Just determining which company to give it to, will cost NASA some 1-2 billion. The ship itself will probably be 10 billion or better (I am betting closer to 15).

              The above will get us with a crew of 6 up to the ISS. The good news, is that the launch cost is a fraction of what it costs today. In addition, we will be able to take the ISS back up to 7-12 ppl.

              From there, we then need the HVL vehicle. That is nothing more than moving the 3 engines from the shuttle to 5 on the bottom of the fuel tank. In addition, we will change the boosters to have 5 segments rather than 4. We currently are able to put some odd 28 tonnes into space via the shuttle (at a cost of 1 billion). When the new HVL is done, we will put 128 Tonnes in one shot (at a cost of 1.5-2 billion). This craft will also have to be human rated, which means undergoing rigourous testing.

              Then we need a whole new system that lands on the moon, and takes off again. That entire system is quite a bit more nebulus, but it will probably look like our old apollo stuff, but much bigger.

              The above illustrates parts of the costs for getting into space and to the moon, and back safely. You mentioned Burt Rutan's works as an example for NASA to follow. Well, First off, Burt did not go high. He went 60 miles. Well, now he needs to go to 300 miles. My understanding is that it gets exponentially harder as you go higher. There are no off-the-shelf stuff for this. In fact, the tspace group is looking to develop a great deal. The capsule that burt did, has a minimal life support system. It is nothing compared to what NASA does to get ppl to the ISS let alone to the moon. remember, once you are on your way to the moon, there really is no rescue group for you (hence tspace's idea of multiple groups going; not a bad idea). So these systems are designed and built to work. period. But it does not come cheap. Yet.

              • Re:Money (Score:2, Insightful)

                by IAN (30)
                You mentioned Burt Rutan's works as an example for NASA to follow. Well, First off, Burt did not go high. He went 60 miles. Well, now he needs to go to 300 miles. My understanding is that it gets exponentially harder as you go higher.

                He went high, but not fast. Shooting payload 300 miles up isn't too difficult. What is harder (truly exponentially harder, due to the rocket equation [wikipedia.org]) is reaching orbital velocity.

              • Re:Money (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Peter La Casse (3992)
                It's not completely accurate to include the costs of the CEV and HLV among the moon costs, at least without noting that even without a push to the moon, the US would be spending that money on those two things anyway. Some of the cost of those two programs will undoubtedly be affected by the moon effort (and they might be budgeted under "moon program" because that's where the money is), but exactly how much of their cost will actually be due to the moon program is probably impossible for amateurs to estimat
              • That means that the solid BOOSTER will now be turned into a man capable rocket.

                Um...aren't the SRBs already human-rated? They are used on the Shuttle Transport System, after all, the entirety of which is human-rated.

                I think what you meant to say is that the second stage for the "Scotty" rocket, or single stick booster topped by humans, will need to be built and human-rated.

                Also, you are underestimating the work that is involved with the Heavy Lift vehicle. You say: That is nothing more than moving the 3 en

                • The comparison with shuttle IS fair, because its 60 tons to orbit is not really useful payload. True, its a life support system, but its also a crew return mechanism with features that aren't useful at all in orbit. Why count the landing gear or wings of the shuttle as payload to orbit? The new strategy is to significantly reduce the mass of the return mechanism in exchange for payload that doesnt need to be returned to earth.

                  The side-mount launch configuration of the shuttle IS the least safe feature of
            • Dont forget, that managers get paid top $$ to go to meetings and go "Now why are we doing this..." "We need another meeting to confirm that"

          • Re:Money (Score:4, Interesting)

            by GileadGreene (539584) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @10:54AM (#13826632) Homepage
            So they just fired 300 top engineers at JPL.

            I don't particularly lke GWB, but the lay-offs have little to do with his "vision for space", and more to do with poor budget management at NASA. AFAIK the primary reason they just laid off at JPL was that they ramped up staffing tremendously during the crunch to get the Spirit and Opportunity rovers finished on time (MER was completed on an incredibly short timescale for a planetary exploration mission - 3 years from start to finish). Unfortunately, the work on MER not only caused a staffing spike, it also went pretty heavily over budget, so several missions were pushed back to free up near-term money to finance MER. Now that MER has wound down there's nothing for a lot of the engineers that were hired during the staffing spike to do: NASA's near-term Mars budget was committed to paying for MER (already done), and the next big projects won't really ramp up for a few years yet.

      • Re:ehhh.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by identity0 (77976) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @05:58AM (#13825025) Journal
        I don't think that's what the original poster was asking. The question wasn't 'why not send a man to space', but 'why ban sending a man to space'. The point being, why was it nessecery to ban it, as opposed to just deciding not to do it?

        Japan, Europe and Israel, for example, have very good space programs with no manned flights, but none of them saw the need to ban it.

        Is it like the old joke -
        "In America, everything which is not banned is legal.
        In Germany, everything which is not allowed is illegal.
        In Soviet Russia, everything which is not banned is mandatory."

        "In Britain, everything which is not worth doing is banned."?

        Does this ban extend to private spaceflight as well?
        • "In Britain, everything which is not worth doing is banned."?

          Haven't lived here, then, I guess? Everything that's fun seems to be banned/restricted/licenced.

      • Sad statement (Score:5, Insightful)

        by amightywind (691887) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @09:10AM (#13825752) Journal

        Because it was considered by just about every scientist alive at the time of Apollo that there was absolutely no scientific value in sending a man to the Moon. Not just British scientists but Americian scientists too held this opinion. Many still hold this opinion today.

        This is such a sad statement, and inaccurate. The Apollo missions were incredibly productive. The first geological exploration another world? 6 missions exploring amazingly diverse sites. Apollo contibuted greatly geomorphology, volcanology, geochemistry, isotope studies, remnote sensing, mapping... The Apollo mission reports are still available [amazon.com]. Read them. I doubt you will feel the same way. As a former planetary geologist I can assure you that that opinion is not widespread in that community.

        If you say this about Apollo, what do you think about the pointless research on the even more expensive space station?

        • Giant public works projects.

          We could be colonizing the Moon, instead we landed on the equator, picked up a handful of rocks in walking distance and declared the new world explored.

          For the last 10 years or more we've been saying there is "most likely" water in the form of ice at the poles. We have yet to land a probe, drill out a sample and test it. That'd be great science wouldn't it?

          Similarly, it's largely believed that a large proportion of the millions of crater impacts on the Moon were caused the meta
          • Re:Sad statement (Score:3, Interesting)

            by amightywind (691887)

            For the last 10 years or more we've been saying there is "most likely" water in the form of ice at the poles. We have yet to land a probe, drill out a sample and test it. That'd be great science wouldn't it?

            There is no doubt that there is interest building to due this soon. Is is great science? I'd say it is a second order result. It is already highly likely given all of the indirect evidence. I think your idea of finding high concentration metallic meteoric deposits is at least as interesting.

            • Thank god that you don't run the world, then...

              We must balance the desire to pursue useless science with the necessity of technical growth for mankind. Are metallic meteor deposits worth our consideration if it means neglecting the very real possibility of colonizing another planet or moon? In what way does the analysis of meteor fragments benefit our species as a whole? Does that benefit exceed the potential benefit of a colonization effort? I think you'll find that the two are orders of magnitude differen
      • No jam for me! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @10:47AM (#13826569) Homepage
        Because it was considered by just about every scientist alive at the time of Apollo that there was absolutely no scientific value in sending a man to the Moon. Not just British scientists but Americian scientists too held this opinion. Many still hold this opinion today.

        I agree. I mean, why send people into space. After all, don't those satellites fix themselves. Hubble almost certainly has required no human interaction. Even if it did, it was of no scientific value. Obviously sending and/or building on our only natural satellite could only end up just as fruitless. And, sex only for the purpose of procreation. Otherwise it has no value. Jam on toast? I'll take the dry white toast any day! Computers for the common peasant, but what would they need with a computer?

        Yes, that's sarcasm. If it wasn't, someone shoot me.

        An unimaginative scientist that can't find the scientific value in the exploration of the unknown... I think that disqualifies them for the title "scientist". One can argue the cost all day, but to argue the scientific value of exploration... unscientific exploration is the very definition of oxymoron. It is, I looked it up and everything.
        • Re:No jam for me! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Retric (704075)
          Basically, it's much cheaper to send up a new satellite than it is to send the shuttle up to fix them. Do we send a 250,000 pound shuttle into orbit or a 20 ton satellite?

          It would have been cheaper to send up 3 Hubble replacements into orbit using the shuttle than it was to repair the old one. Just think of each of those missions as 1BILLION $ down the drain. OR we could have send ~6 Hubble's up in a non man launch vehicle.

          Now sending people into zero G for months at a time has value, but there is litt
    • Re:ehhh.... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WindBourne (631190)
      due to the costs of what was being sought. Putting man into space is trivial (just like putting in any other sat.). Keeping him alive is a whole different thing. The support mechanism that is required is big and difficult (read expensive). So if all your exploration is simple remote monitoring, then sats are far easier and cheaper. Hence the ban.

      Now, we are exploring the surface of planets. If was can put a small group of ppl on mars for 5 years, then the amount of exploration that is accomplished is many
    • Re:ehhh.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by baadger (764884) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:50AM (#13824847)
      No, I believe the 'real question' is why did we give up on our space program in the first place, really just a few years before people started seeing and reaping the commercial benefits of satellite technology.

      It is feasibly that if we had continued our efforts, unclamped by the government, we may have put a man in space ourselves.

      There was recently a brilliantly put together but saddening documentary on the highlights of the British space program on the BBC. Unfortunately there isn't a torrent in sight (if anyone finds one PLEASE me know) and there aren't many central sources for general information on the era to be found with Google (unless you know specific project names).

      Britain's first space pioneers [bbc.co.uk] - A nice summary of British space efforts, courtesy of the BBC.
      • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @05:59AM (#13825029) Homepage
        The answer to both of those questions is: The UK doesn't have any good launch sites. We're in Northern Europe, in case you hadn't noticed, and you can't launch rockets from there (at least, not without considerably higher costs/risks than doing it closer to the equator).

        It comes down to empire. The French still exhert ownership over a couple of countries that have good launch sites. The UK does not.

        The idea of us ringing up the Australians and saying "What ho! We're going to build a rocket base in your outback. Look, I know you chaps think you're independent now, but Queen Liz says to tell you to bally well stuff off" is just not going to fly, I'm afraid.

        True, we're part of the European Space Agency.

        But it seems rather pointless to have a space programme when you have to ask other people to launch it for you.

        Especially if those other people are the French.

        I do hope I don't have to explain quite how horrifying the idea of a British citizen patriotically launching into space to the sound of "Cinq... quatre... trios... deux... un!" sounds to the average Brit.
        • It comes down to empire. The French still exhert ownership over a couple of countries that have good launch sites. The UK does not.

          We've still got some lovely tropical islands in the Caribbean. One of those would do nicely. It would help recruit the best ground crew - too: think about it, would you rather work in a swamp in Florida? Or in some South American rainforest? Perhaps the Kazakh steppe is to your tastes, or maybe even a desolate part of Mongolia?

          No, no, no. Coconut Island, that's the place for

        • and saying "What ho! ... Queen Liz says to tell you to bally well stuff off" is just not going to fly, I'm afraid.

          That might not fly, but diplomacy would.
          • Indeed, but if a diplomatic solution was negotiated, it would most likely be an Australian space programme, and not a British one.

            I really, really can't imagine the Australians selling us back a plot of land. If the launch site was on Australian soil then our perception would be that it was an Australian programme. The UK already has plenty of places where we are "partners" in a space programme, none of which give us sufficient national pride to care about manned travel. The proud Brit striding aboard a roc
            • When was the last time you heard about the Khazakstan space program?

              Seriously, if a hypothetical British space program did want to launch in Australia it's highly likely Australia would want to get involved in some way, but if the astronauts were British and the rockets were built primarily by British engineers I think the world would figure out who was responsible pretty quickly.

              And, frankly, if the British government said "we want to lease an area of your desert, spend a pile of money in it, create a bunc

            • The proud Brit striding aboard a rocket with his Union Jack uniform doesn't seem so proud when he's having to launch from a site which flies a different flag.


              That's easily solved - just design a suitable British Space Exploration logo. I'd go for a Union Flag against a dark background with a few stars sprinkled on it. Something like this [basher82.nl] ought to do the trick.
        • If the Brits were looking about for a third-party nation to lease launch facilities from, they could do worse than negotiating with the Chileans to lease a facility for a spaceport in the high Chilean deserts [wikipedia.org]. About 10 degrees closer to the equator than Cape Canaveral, and around 10,000 ft higher, they are also one of the driest spots on the planet (less ice build up than launching out of a tropical wetlands).

          The European Southern Observatory [wikipedia.org] already operates two of the finest atronomical facilities on th

          • constantnormal: If the Brits were looking about for a third-party nation to lease launch facilities from, they could do worse than negotiating with the Chileans

            Technically, that's a superb idea. Unfortunately it would be a PR disaster [serendipity.li] (80's UK prime minister Thatcher was seen as a supporter of Chile president Pinochet who went on to face torture charges).

            Which is kind of my whole point about a British space programme. Pretty much anywhere we'd choose to put it, it'd stir up unpleasant memories about somethi
        • Actually, Queen Liz of England has a lot of executive powers in Australia in her position as as "Queen of Australia".

          The most notable recent event was in 1975 during the constitutional crisis. Her proxy, The Govenor General, Sir John Kerr, took power from the government and gave it to the opposition (on the understanding they would immediately call a new election). Read about it here [wikipedia.org].

          Interestingly, the Australians I've spoke to about this actually regarded it as a good thing as the incumbent government

        • The UK doesn't have old floating oil rigs? Zenit-3SL Orbital launch vehicle. Family: Energia. Country: Ukraine. Status: Hardware. Library of Congress Designation: J-1e. From the beginning of the program a Zenit-3 version was proposed for geosynchronous launches using the N1/Proton Block D third stage. This had the potential of replacing the Proton in the role of geosynchronous launcher. It was considered for launch from Australia / Cape York in the 1980's. Finally a joint US-Norwegian-Ukraininan-Russian
        • The idea of us ringing up the Australians and saying "What ho! We're going to build a rocket base in your outback. Look, I know you chaps think you're independent now, but Queen Liz says to tell you to bally well stuff off" is just not going to fly, I'm afraid.

          I swear, as God as my witness, I will use the phrase "bally well stuff off" today in a sentence.

      • if we had continued our efforts, unclamped by the government

        So who would be the private investors?

    • Re:ehhh.... (Score:4, Funny)

      by madaxe42 (690151) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:51AM (#13824848) Homepage
      Because in Britain most things that might be marginally dangerous and/or interesting are banned. Such as cycling on the motorway.

      Those bastards.
      • Re:ehhh.... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by LiquidCoooled (634315)
        When the Commonwealth games came to town a couple of years ago, some Kenyan riders didn't know about this little law, and decided to go riding around on the motorway (at around 40mph!).

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/funny_old_game/215 1150.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        We have silly laws in this country, but this one I happen to agree with.
      • Cycling in motorways/highways ("autostrade") is outlawed in Italy too. Actually, no mean of transportation that can't go faster than 60 km/h is banned. And not because they are dangerous, but because they slow traffic down.
      • Because in Britain most things that might be marginally dangerous and/or interesting are banned. Such as cycling on the motorway.

        Sorry, but having cyclists on the motorway would be a downright menace to drivers - its bad enough having cyclists on fast A-roads. Cyclists _shouldn't_ be on the roads any more than pedestrians should. Now I'm not taking an anti-cyclist stance here (I used to cycle a lot myself), I'm saying that there should be another prevision for cyclists rather than making them cycle on the
        • In Japan cyclists ride on the pavement, though not exclusively. Speaking as a pedestrian, it's not that big a deal really once you get over the initial surprise. (anyone alleging that it only works here because of the supposed Japanese courtiousness gets a slap)

          I am not sure the exact rules, though as elsewhere it appears to follow the universal ignoring by cyclists of traffic lights at junctions and pedestrian crossings.
    • Why was it banned in the first place?

      It wasn't _banned_ so much as starved to death. During the early post-WWII/coldwar year the UK developed it's independent Blue Arrow/Strike, a dual technology programme for ICBM and Satellite launchers.

      The Government sponsored programme civil programm was starved to death before being cancelled to save cash, or more accurately to divert to government social programmes like the NHS.
  • WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mboverload (657893)
    I mean, seriously. That's all I can say. What the fuck?

    I mean shit, I know it's a waste of money but to BAN it? Someone needs to get beat with a billy club.
    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:45AM (#13824830) Homepage Journal
      What's hard to understand? There was a ban placed on the use of public funds to do manned space exploration because it was considered a waste of money by the scientific community. When you consider how much money is wasted on the ISS every year you gotta appreciate they may have a point.
      • When you consider how much money is wasted on the ISS every year you gotta appreciate they may have a point.

        That is not entirely accurate. We are learning how to put a system together in space that has held up for years. We now have ppl in space for LONG periods of time. Before this, only the russians had done that. Both Russian and America are learning how to work together. There have been a number of small incidents on the ISS, that could have been disasterous had it been at a distance i.e the moon or ma

      • Hmmmm..... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Savage-Rabbit (308260)
        What's hard to understand? There was a ban placed on the use of public funds to do manned space exploration because it was considered a waste of money by the scientific community. When you consider how much money is wasted on the ISS every year you gotta appreciate they may have a point.

        No they don't have a point. The ISS it self has had a number of problems but calling the basic idea of an ISS a waste of money because one of the implementations of that idea sucks is plain stupid. Like any other elementary
  • Interesting... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geo_2677 (593590) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:32AM (#13824792)
    that the report comes out couple of days after the Chinese astronauts return to Planet Earth.
    • Re:Interesting... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:47AM (#13825148)
      More importantly, it comes out not long after ESA reached an agreement with the Russians concerning the development of the Kliper [wikipedia.org] spacecraft. Looks like the successor to Soyuz will be largely paid for by ESA and flown from French Guyana.

      But for ESA to do this will take money, and money is short as long as the second-richest country in Europe refuses to spend a single penny on manned spacecraft. British money might make the difference between this thing flying someday and this thing becoming another might-have-been. Not to mention that we'll probably get a good few lucrative contracts related to the development, and the incalculable value to British technology of actually inspiring the next generation. We have way too few new physical science or engineering students in this country right now, and we have sod all to be proud of since we retired the Concorde. America might have betrayed their dream when they cancelled Apollo to pay for Vietnam, but at least they had one. What are we trying for?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:33AM (#13824797)
    "Come in Swindon. I'm at the top of the ladder now. Ohhh, it's very high, I can see my house from up here! I'm still a long way away..I think we'll need more ladders."

    Eddie Izzard sums out the British philosophy to space exploration.
    • by identity0 (77976) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:23AM (#13825091) Journal
      The real reason it was banned, of course, was the tragic loss of an astronaut in the early 70's.

      Many still remember the haunting last words:

      "Though I'm passed one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still
      And I think my spaceship knows which way to go,
      tell my wife I love her very much she knows"

      "Ground control to Major Tom:
      Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong.
      Can you hear me Major Tom?
      Can you hear me Major Tom?
      Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you ..."

      Ashes to ashes. RIP Major Tom.

      The British space program never recovered from that tragedy, as well as from the breakup of The Beatles. Thankfully the Rocket Man, Sir Elton John is still standing.
  • Maybe.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kelz (611260) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:33AM (#13824798)
    Because you can't have tea in space?
  • by jettoki (894493) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:35AM (#13824806)
    Didn't they see James Bond: Moonraker?!

    If you send humans into space, evil madmen will form space station communes and plot global genocide!
  • Clarification (Score:3, Informative)

    by arethuza (737069) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:47AM (#13824836)
    Note that this was a ban on the UK government paying for an astronaut, not on there being a UK astronaut!

    I have to admit, I can see their point!

  • by Council (514577) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `eornumr'> on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:55AM (#13824854) Homepage
    In related news, India, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Maldives, Gambia, Canada, Hong Kong, and all the other former British colonies banded together to send a message to the moon, Mars, and the other planets. It read "Watch out for these guys! They've got a flag!"
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @04:55AM (#13824859) Homepage
    The commission concluded that 'profound scientific questions relating to the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond Earth can best - perhaps only - be achieved by human exploration on the Moon or Mars, supported by appropriate automated systems.

    That's cool stuff and all, but I'm something of a pragmatist, so hopefully I won't offend too many of the resident idealist when I suggest that the previously enumerated justifications don't hold water as far as spending billions on a space program goes.

    Knowing the history of solar system has next to zero humanitarian worth. And while maybe, just maybe finding alien life could yield some pharmaceutical benefits, all present evidence indicates that life is a localized earth phenomena. There is not much reason to expect to find any microbes on Titan or Mars or anywhere else except for hopeful thinking. Which is fine, and maybe there's a full fledged intelligent civilization living under ice sheets on one of the Jovian moons, but you don't send an expedition to the back of the moon looking for the Fountain of Youth just because it might be there.

    That's not to say this knowledge doesn't have any worth. It has aesthetic worth, like the Sistine Chapel. Heck, as a student of physics, my defining goal is to further elucidate the nature of the universe. Personally, I assosciate an incredible worth with knowing more about its formation.

    But I wouldn't support my government spending billions on an art project, even one I would appreciate, and likewise, I don't think 'history of the solar system' is likely to be the best allocation of the funds.

    Now, colonizing space is a whole nother spiel as far as justifying an investment. I think there are immense humanitarian benefits inherit to that--many, as exampled by the U.S. space program, that will arise sheerly incidental to the effort without us having any idea about them beforehand. Zero gravity refinement of synthetic materials, solar mirrors to assist in growing crops (and maybe dissipating hurricanes?), extending our habitat to deal with overcrowding... these all seem like things that a wealthy government might be doing its people a favor by investing in.

    • How can you colonise unless you've explored the place first?
      You can't just fire some space colonists at mars and say:
      "Good luck chaps , hope the weathers nice and the soil isn't
      poisoness!". You have to send expeditionary forces first.
      If you want an analogy , medieval european colonists didnt
      just head off lock stock & barrel over the atlantic without
      knowing what was there on the off chance there might
      be some nice farmland waitinf - many many expeditions were
      launched first. Same thing with space - you ca
      • Did you ever read about the first English colonies to America? A group of stockholders sent some colonists, who then all nearly died, because they made plans for spending their time picking up the gold nuggets that litter coast, instead of planning on bustin' ass just to survive, which was how it actually turned out. Seriously, before John Smith took over things were hanging on by the barest thread. And the same thing happened again and again in America history. All the '49s went out to California, sold the
  • Perhaps Blair could divert some funds from his new Trident missile replacement system, the one that costs an arm and a leg but will never actually be used? You know, all that crazy 'making a good example for the rest of the world' thing?
  • by gringer (252588) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @05:10AM (#13824897)
    But if the UK ends up inventing things related to space flight, then all they'll have to research after that will be the following:

    Future Tech 1
    Future Tech 2
    Future Tech 3 ...
  • Little risk (Score:3, Insightful)

    by panurge (573432) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @05:24AM (#13824933)
    Fortunately, the size of the UK economy and its loss of virtually all its technological leadership abroad (except in biosciences) means there is little risk of a party of British astronauts landing anywhere outside Earth and accidentally carrying out a military takeover (see the history of the British Empire, from Clive on.)

    In fact, with the success rate to date, from Blue Streak to Beagle 2, the chance of a British astronaut getting out of the atmosphere in one piece is so low that anybody volunteering for a space program needs a quick trip to a secure mental health unit instead.

  • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:05AM (#13825048) Homepage Journal
    all the world's a stage:

    The report warns Britain risks being isolated on the international stage if it continues its longstanding refusal to fund the human exploration of space.

    This kind of reasoning makes me break out in hives. It's like saying the way to be an innovative company is to look at other innovative companies and copy what they do. Sometimes the thing to do when everyone is doing A is to find something the B that everybody else is not doing, where marginal returns are higher.

    The RAS expert panel says the cost of joining other nations with astronaut programmes could be some £150m a year...

    Current policy only allows for tax payers' money to be spent on robotic missions, which means the UK, although a member state of the European Space Agency (Esa), gives no funds to Esa's astronaut corps...

    As part of its fact-finding exercise, the RAS panel tested public opinion through the BBC News website.

    So, putting two and two together, this is political and diplomatic rather than scientific an technical. Which is not to say "not worthwhile", but justifications have to be found elsewhere. A couple of hundred million pounds a year is not going to get Britain its own space capability by a long shot, but it will allow it to play with other nations.

    The men say robotic missions to the Moon and Mars can answer many of the questions we want to ask about the origin of the Solar System and the evolution of life within it - but machines do not yet have the ingenuity and flexibility of people.

    "Humans are good at making decisions that are impossible to predict ahead of time," said Dr Dudeney.

    "They can deviate from assigned tasks and kick over a rock just because it's a different colour and looks interesting. But there is a symbiosis between machines and man; it's not one versus the other, it's about what they can do together."

    As a counter example,engineers on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission found their equipment could be kept functioning well past their orignial goals and decided to keep them doing science until they die. We won't be doing that with astronauts. It might be the next best step for marginal returns is a manned mission, but I doubt it. My point here is that we should not be overly concerned with the apparent flexibility of a mission component, which after all people would be, without taking into the account their impact on the overall flexibility of the mission and the program.

    I wonder if some British national pride was hurt by the failure of the Beagle 2. That mission was way outside the box in terms of ambition for funding. It might have been a brilliant success. The lesson of the Beagle 2 mission should NOT be (in my opinion) that robotic missions are too risky. It should be that taking ambitious risks entails experiencing failure, otherwise it's neither ambitious or risky. Put in perspective, Britain could have launched twenty Beagle 2 missions (more if fixed costs are amortized) for the price of the dual Mars Exploration Rover mission; if it had a 10% chance of success they'd be in the same place in terms of mission success, but gained a great deal more technical expertise. Not only would this expertise enhance national prestige indirectly through increased capabilities, I believe that success after a number of failures would yield more prestige directly, ironic though that may be. It would remind people that you're trying something difficult and risky.

    I'm not against manned space exploration; I'm for getting the most science out of our buck -- er -- pound. I'm not convinced that a manned mission is scientifically or technically the best marginal investment at this time. Even in terms of national prestige, I'm not convinced that manned missions are what they used to be. If the public wants to see George Clooney in a s

    • I would mod you but you are already at +5 so I'll comment. I couldn't agree more with what you say. Bang for pound sending people into space seems like a very expensive luxury at the minute. Even if we say that there are spin-offs from sending people into space I think it's expensive.

      In fact I would go as far as to say there are very few spin-offs from sending people into space for one very good reason. No one wants to see astronauts die so all the technology that is used is very tried tested. With a robo

    • "As a counter example,engineers on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission found their equipment could be kept functioning well past their orignial goals and decided to keep them doing science until they die."

      Okay, but no one is suggesting that we do away with automated space missions. What they are saying is that there are things people can do which robots can't. That means that a policy strictly excluding manned space flight does not make sense scientifically. Obviously a mixed approach makes the most sense
      • Okay, but no one is suggesting that we do away with automated space missions. What they are saying is that there are things people can do which robots can't. That means that a policy strictly excluding manned space flight does not make sense scientifically. Obviously a mixed approach makes the most sense.

        I would agree with this so far as it goes. The problem, unless I miss my mark, is going to be politics. A logical program would be mixed as you say, shifting from a mainly robotic phase to sharpen scienti
  • I really don't get this - they banned it because they couldn't think of a scientific reason to go to space??

    Come on! If that's right, then the UK should also ban everything else that is not accompanied by a team of ressearchers, including the average person simply getting out of bed in the morning.

    Space exploration has much more to offer than simple scientific knowledge. It is known that the Earth will eventually perish, when the sun explodes into a red giant, so space exploration offers, at least, survival
  • by CdXiminez (807199) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @06:16AM (#13825072)
    There has been one British astronaut flying under a UK flag, Helen Sharman [astronautix.com], on a Soyuz, in 1991.
  • Looks like we're getting jealous of the Chinese.

    I live there, but what a typical European move, they have one so we've got one. I'd bet that if the manned Chinese flight had fucked up, we be hearing "Oh! Well, we have a non manned flight policy!"

    Secondly, which Briton in his right mind will volenteer for a manned Brit spaceflight, the last unmanned one we sent up (first in like 20 years, my god the hype they made about it), The Beagle, just went wrong! Not one part worked...
    • I live there, but what a typical European move, they have one so we've got one.

      That is a typical European response. Remember how we all panicked over here when the Russians orbited Sputnik and then Gagarin in quick succession, and we just HAD to do that ourselves and then try to one-up them with a monstrously expensive moon mission? Meanwhile of course the sensible Americans ignored the whole show...

      • The difference is Explorer (America's answer to Sputnik) was ready to go ~3 months after Sputnik was launched. America was developing tech in parallel with Russia and overtook Russia. England on the other hand stagnated...

        -everphilski-
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @07:03AM (#13825189) Journal
    The article didn't seem to have a link to the actual report, and judging by the comments I've seen so far, nobody here's read it yet. The RAS's report can be found here:

    http://www.ras.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content &task=view&id=847&Itemid=1 [ras.org.uk]

    Here's a portion of the summary....

    The main conclusions of the RAS report are as follows:

    * 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.
  • Prosecutors in Britain today dropped extradition proceedings against Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin for 'Willful Human Space Flight'. The accused expressed their relief.
  • All the article says is that the British government refuses to fund human space flight. It says nothing about banning British citizens from going up on their own penny (pence?). Maybe what Britain needs is civil human spaceflight to kick things up a bit and make for some good competition for our own burgeoning civil human space flight market here in the 'States.
  • The fortune at the bottom of the page from which I post this reply says:

    "Those lovable Brits department: They also have trouble pronouncing `vitamin'."

    Maybe that's what's holding them back.

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