BIS Meeting to discuss UK Policy on Humans in Space

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					        BIS Meeting to discuss UK Policy on Humans in Space

“This meeting recommends UK involvement in human spaceflight in order to benefit fully
from the opportunities that spaceflight offers, managed by an appropriate national body.”

This was the conclusion of a well-attended meeting held at BIS Headquarters on the 27th May
to discuss UK policy on participation in manned spaceflight programmes. The meeting was
addressed by Ian Crawford from the Royal Astronomical Society, Pat Norris from the Royal
Aeronautical Society, and Kevin Fong from UCL representing the UK Space Biology Group
as well as Mark Hempsell and Nick Spall from the Society. Their presentations showed that,
in contradistinction to official UK government policy, there is a significant interest and
advantage to the UK in participating in human spaceflight programmes. There is also an
awareness that with the approach of the IAF Congress in Glasgow in 2008, now is the time to
look for new UK initiatives in Space.

As background to the meeting, the BIS was aware that a Royal Astronomical Society (RAS)
Commission in 2005 had advocated UK participation in human spaceflight as being important
to astronomy and planetary exploration (“Report of the Commission on the Scientific Case for
Human Space Exploration” available on In addition, the Royal
Aeronautical Society (RAeS) is currently performing a review of the same subject (see BIS policy in favour of human spaceflight has been re-iterated on a
number of occasions, but the meeting provided an opportunity to examine the arguments in
the light of current developments including the US initiative favouring a return to the Moon,
and the flight of SpaceShip One heralding the beginnings of “space tourism” through Virgin
Galactic. The question in front of the meeting was, “were the arguments behind current UK
policy still valid, and if not what changes would be required.”

Mark Hempsell, introducing the meeting, stated that politically we were advised to lobby for
one key issue, and that the meeting had to decide what that one key thing should be.

Reviewing the scientific case put forward by the RAS, Ian Crawford pointed out that while
the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers have been a great success, the amount of
exploration that they have achieved could have been done in a day or two by a human
geologist on the site. Making rovers smaller actually made it difficult to travel longer
distances, and “human scale” vehicles would be required for large-scale exploration, with or
without humans aboard. In addition, to really understand the geology of the Moon and Mars
deep drilling (>100 m) would be required, which would almost certainly require a human
presence. Despite Apollo, the Moon remained a very important scientific target, and with
President Bush’s initiative to return to the Moon it was important that the UK could
participate in it. In addition, there were areas of astronomy that could benefit from
instruments on the Moon, and the experience with the Hubble Space Telescope had
demonstrated the benefits of human servicing of such instruments.

Pat Norris’ presentation on the RAeS discussion paper represented “work in progress.” The
RAeS Space Group had tried to find a balance between robotic (and tele-robotic) exploration
and human space activities. While there was probably much that could be done with tele-
robotics on the Moon, the same could not be said for more distant targets like Mars. They
also noted that while “prestige” projects were out of step with UK opinion, nevertheless there
was an intense public interest in human spaceflight and planetary exploration, and it was
disappointing to find that to participate, potential astronauts had to renounce UK citizenship.
The advent of sub-orbital “space tourism” would certainly involve the UK in regulatory
activities, as well as in terms of supporting technologies and services. The RAeS was also
trying to measure the effectiveness of Space in attracting young people into science and

Kevin Fong of UCL spoke of the relationship between human spaceflight and the life
sciences, in particular the importance of what he described as “boundary condition
physiology.” Many of the problems encountered with human beings living in weightless
conditions are also encountered in the elderly on Earth – including osteoporosis, muscle
atrophy, cardiac impairment and balance and co-ordination defects. A UK user community
for Space Life Sciences was identified clearly back in 1999 when 152 scientists attended a
Space Biomedical Research Conference in London in the absence of institutional support for
such activity. When the ESA Aurora programme made a “call for proposals” for life science
projects the UK made the third largest number of submissions despite being excluded from
such projects by government policy. Fong demonstrated that there had been a consistent UK
interest in world quality science using microgravity in spite of political exclusion from
activity aboard the International Space Station.

The institutional problem associated with human spaceflight activities in the UK was
highlighted by Mark Hempsell. He began by dividing Space activities into four quadrants –
unmanned and manned and applications and infrastructure. He pointed out that in the area of
unmanned applications the UK had generally invested in line with its Gross National Product
(GNP), and been very successful. The problem was that, despite having the fourth (or fifth)
biggest economy in the world, it did not invest at all in any of the other three quadrants.
Indeed, with the UK’s governmental organization through BNSC acting as a co-coordinator
for other government departments, it could not invest – despite the fact that there were well-
documented returns from each. As a consequence the UK finds itself in an anomalous
position. With the second biggest aerospace industry in the world, only 2% of that activity is
in Space, while in the US it accounts for 25% of the turnover, and within other ESA member
states typically 10 - 15%. What was required, said Hempsell, was “a fair and balanced
spending on Space in the UK.”

Mark Hempsell also attacked the myth that human spaceflight experiments were more
expensive than automated experiments. Because a human spacecraft can carry many
experiments, typical costs for experiments flown on Shuttle or the ISS ranged between $ 10 M
and $ 70 M per experiment. This compared with $ 30 M for NEAR, and as much as $ 130 M
for the ESA Infrared Space Observatory.

Finally, Nick Spall spoke on public perception and engagement in UK human spaceflight. As
one of the largest world economies, the UK was the only G8 or industrialized nation without
an astronaut programme. He quoted the late Scott Crossfield, test pilot for the X-15, who
said, “My view is that if you do not make a manned vehicle and have a man ride in it … what
use is it to human experience?” This was an area in which political commitment was vital,
but also an area providing inspiration for education and advanced technology. A clear UK
human spaceflight policy would provide a “win-win” situation for science, education,
education and exploration.
                                                                             Bob Parkinson

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