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Why Britons may walk on moon by the 2020s.

British astronauts sporting Union Flags on their space suits could be walking on the moon by the 2020s if ministers follow proposals set out yesterday by a Government agency working group.

A report from the panel of scientists and industry experts, appointed by the British National Space Centre, urges the UK to start preparing for future manned space missions. Failure to do so could result in Britain being left behind as countries around the world head into space, it is claimed.

If the plans are implemented, it will mark a complete turnaround of UK space policy. Up to now Britain has focused exclusively on satellites and robotic space exploration. Although a handful of British-born astronauts have flown in the American space shuttle, there have been no "home grown" UK manned space missions.

Successive governments have firmly held the view that human space exploration is simply not worth the expense.

But other nations are increasingly becoming more interested in manned space flight.

In May, 14 of the world's leading space agencies, including the American space agency Nasa and the European Space Agency, published their vision of a new era in space exploration.

The Global Exploration Strategy provides a framework for international co-operation between space-faring nations that envisages both robots and humans being sent to the Moon, Mars and beyond before the end of this century.

The new report calls for Britain to play a full and active role in the GES - which would include astronauts as well as robots.

A firm decision on whether or not to get involved in human space flight would have to be taken as early as 2010, said the experts.

The cost of a five-year programme from 2010 to 2015 including manned space station missions would be around pounds 50-pounds 75 million.

Initially it would involve training four astronauts, two of whom could be sent on missions to the International Space Station. But the ultimate aim would be to include British astronauts on voyages to the Moon and Mars.

Professor Frank Close, who chaired the UK Space Exploration Working Group, said sending humans into space was about more than collecting scientific data. It could also inspire the nation and future generations.

Speaking at the BA (British Association) Festival of Science at York University, he said: "The concept of human exploration of space is inspiring, and UK involvement could add a level of pride and encourage the young.

"There is a real crisis in the numbers of kids taking science and engineering subjects at GCSE and entering university. This has been falling, and if something doesn't turn it around then 50 years from now we won't have qualified engineers."
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 14, 2007
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