Brits in space fever!

by | Oct 10, 2008 | exploration | 0 comments

“I recognize that there are issues around budgets and so forth,” the new UK science minister responsible for space Lord Drayson told The Times [of London], when asked about the realities facing his enthusiasm for human spaceflight; in what must be one of the biggest understatements of the year following a UK government pledge to buy £25 billion ($44 billion) worth of UK bank shares if necessary and commit to £450 billion of taxpayer provided capital to keep the bankers in their comfy leather chairs and us from destitutionSo with that comment you can see that I am fairly sceptical about these warm words despite the Anglophilic excitement rippling across the blogosphere about the possibility of the UK finally joining the ranks of space faring nations

It was September last year that this all began (was it really that long ago?!) when a UK report, ordered by the space activities coordinating body the British National Space Centre (BNSC) recommended the government should examine what it would take to involve the UK in human spaceflight

But I was blogging about the possiblity of all this happening as far back as January 2007 and as you can see for yourself my views haven’t changed enormously since the first of the recent troika of UK government “space ministers”, Malcolm Wicks, was in place

In October 2007 the second of the three ‘space ministers’ the UK has now had (Drayson is the third) in the last three years, Ian Pearson (an elected member of the UK Parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Commons), gave the green light for a study into the “potential benefits” of UK involvement

According to the details that tumbled out after that announcement the date for when a final decision might be made is this month, but don’t hold your breath

In the wake of these revelations came the February publication of the UK’s new space strategy that was like a jigsaw puzzle with major pieces missing. Why? Because, as a member of the European Space Agency, the UK was preparing its negotiating stance for the agency’s member states’ meeting this November where decisions on what involvement the different countries and the UK would have as part of the annual €3 billion plus activities of ESA would be made

So we are unlikely to have any announcement by Drayson, whose appointment was only officially announced yesterday, before the November ESA ministerial meeting

The BNSC’s 2008 annual space activities report has not even mentioned the studies into exploration and human spaceflight despite referring to the discussons with NASA about future cooperation

And after the ministerial? With an unpopular government, even more unpopular prime minister in Gordon Brown, growing fears of a recession, multi-multi-billion pound commitments to keep the banking system from crashing, higher expectations of tax hikes in the near future and an election that has to take place by June 2010, within twenty months from now, and you can see how the launch of an astronaut programme could appear to be somewhat inappropriate

But then again never underestimate Gordon Brown’s abiilty for misjudgement. He did appear in a video message for the successful International Astronautical Congress that was held in the Scottish city of Glasgow last week. That is amazing in itself, until you consider the fact that he is a Scotsman and his party lost the local snap election for the Glasgow East House of Common’s representative earlier this year

And for those of you reading this and not in the UK, you should also know that Lord Drayson has already quit the government once before. Then he was a minister for defence procurement and his reason to quit, “to spend more time with his racing cars”. This wikipedia entry has a lot on his background, though personally I don’t trust wikipedia but its the only online bio I could fnd of him quickly. But from what I have read elsewhere this extremely wealthy businessman is involved in the rich man’s sport of car racing

My final cynical point is this. The governing Labour party is in dire financial straits and facing a very tough election, the phony war for which will start with the September 2009 annual party conferences (To Americans reading this blog post, don’t believe the smug Brits who claim our national elections are only one month long). Drayson is very wealthy with a robotics phd and an apparent interest in human spaceflight. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that he has been offered the job of bringing about British astronauts and wider technological invovlement of the UK in human spaceflight projects in return for big donations to the Labour party

Once the money is in the bank Drayson can always be shuffled off into another job or his decisions reversed by a future space minister

For those of you looking forward to counting down to the launch of an astronaut with a UK union flag patch on their arm, expect an indefinite hold in due course

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