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credit NASA / Flight / caption: Britain might not get to the Moon or station but it is a great leap forward

Hyperbola is hearing that the UK may well get its own member of the European Space Agency astronaut corps this June

Why so specific? ESA says that it intends to ask candidates to join its astronaut corps this summer after months of selection testing that ended with interviews with the space agency’s director general Jean-Jacques Dordain

June is obviously, for us in the northern hemisphere, this summer, and it just so happens that that month will see an ESA, NASA bilateral meeting on what the agencies can do together after 2016 including Mars exploration. Don’t take my word for it, acting NASA administrator Christopher Scolese mentioned it during the 29 April Congressional appropriations subcommittee hearing

So what has that got to do with a UK astronaut?You see to make the jump to a UK astronaut a bit of recent and Tudor history needs to be known, yes Tudor, don’t you watch HBO? The ESA, NASA bilateral meeting is taking place in Plymouth, England. Yes Plymouth, England, not Plymouth, New England in what used to be called the New World and is now the Americas

The Tudor period of history encompasses the rise to Kingship in 1485 of Henry Tudor aka King Henry VII, his son King Henry VIII, unsurprisingly, and that tyrannical son’s feisty daughter Elizabeth the first – well someone had to be. It was during Elizabeth’s reign (15-something to 1603, but I’m sure you knew) that one Plymouth resident Sir Francis Drake sailed from his home town and found his way to the New World

So you can see that by having a meeting about exploration in Plymouth its fairly heavy with symbolism for the British. And what about that recent history?

Flightglobal.com and Hyperbola has been bringing the ups and downs of the UK space strategy review and prospects for a UK astronaut for sometime. The latest space exploration review should be fnished by now or at least was supposed to be done by May and this was to examine the “potential benefits” of UK involvement in human spaceflight, but I forget which of the three UK space ministers said exactly that over the last three years

The important bit is this confluence of events, the completion of a government review that includes human spaceflight, a meeting in an English city that is historically symbolic for British exploration and the planned announcement “this summer” by ESA of its new astronaut candidates (they are candidates until they go into space)

You can see that for a journalist that sort of situation is just begging for a conspiracy theory

This blog has been extremely sceptical about the prospects for a UK astronaut so here is the how

ESA is selecting four individuals but the organisation also has a reserve of four. Who is to say what will happen over the next few years before these individuals get to fly on a Soyuz TMA or perhaps even Russia’s proposed Advanced Crew Transportation System or, maybe even, NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle (OK that maybe too outlandish)

The UK pilot-astronaut, if selected, will probably be in the reserve because Hyperbola is guessing that has lower immediate cost implications for the citizen’s nation and allows for a potential step change in the member state’s involvement if for any reason that reserve has to become a full time astronaut 

The fact that the June meeting is dealing with NASA, ESA collaboration after 2016, the original notional date for the end of International Space Station operations, also suggests that it will see discussed the extension of ISS utilisation to 2020 and that opportunity for bringing onboard new partners, of which the UK could be one

Hyperbola thinks Sir Francis Drake would be pleased