UK astronauts could walk on Moon

Nasa Administrator Michael Griffin is offering Britain the chance to join the United States on its return to the Moon in the next decade. And quizzed by Skymania News, he said he hoped that would include flying British astronauts to the lunar surface.

Nasa artist's impressionThe UK currently has a space policy that supports robotic probes but not human spaceflight.

This week, Dr Griffin held informal talks in London this week with new science minister Malcolm Wicks and proposed linking up to explore the Moon.

Last night, he gave an inspiring public lecture at the Royal Society before an audience that included Stephen Hawking and Beagle scientist Colin Pillinger.

Dr Griffin made it clear that he believes it is Man’s destiny to explore the solar system, likening it to the great voyages by sailing ships to explore the globe.

He said: “The British Royal Astronomical Society recently released a report advocating the expansion of British involvement in human space exploration.

“I hope that report receives sober consideration in the policy circles of the United Kingdom, and I hope that I can count on you to be among the international partners who, with the United States, work to develop the first permanent lunar outpost in the next decade.”

During questions afterwards, I asked Dr Griffin if his invitation extended to training British astronauts. He told me: “The minister and I had an excellent meeting and I did point out that the US strategic plan for NASA today is intended to be international in scope and that I personally would regret it if, when we return to the Moon, we cannot return in company with our closest ally.

“And so yes, the invitation absolutely is there for the UK to join us in those journeys. The level and scope and nature of that participation will of course be up to the UK – we are looking for volunteers, not conscripts – and I hope that that level of participation would go so far as to include astronauts.

“And of course, if it does – and that is a choice that Great Britain must finally make – then of course we will participate in training them.”

Former science minister Lord Sainsbury, who resigned for personal reasons last month was known to be opposed to human spaceflight.

When I spoke to a press officer at the Department of Trade and Industry about Dr Griffin’s offer, he said the official situation had not changed.

You can watch a webcast of Dr Griffin’s speech here or read this transcript. Regular readers will recall that British-born astronaut Piers Sellers also called for the UK to produce it own astronauts last week.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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