PN04/23: UK PARTICIPATION IN FUTURE SPACE EXPLORATION: RAS INPUTS TO ALL-PARTY GROUP OF MPS.
The future of UK and European space exploration was the subject of an in-depth briefing held yesterday at the premises of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in Burlington House, Piccadilly.
The briefing took place at a meeting of the Parliamentary All-Party Astronomy and Space Environment Group (APASEG), which was called "To consider the United Kingdom's participation in future space exploration, specifically ESA's Aurora Project."
During the briefing, Dr. Sarah Dunkin, vice-president of the RAS, explained why the Society strongly supports UK involvement in the proposed European Aurora programme of robotic and human exploration.
"The RAS believes that the UK risks being left behind by the other advanced technological nations if it does not enter this programme", she said.
"The UK has developed considerable expertise in scientific research and space engineering, but much of this may be lost or wasted if the UK does not look towards the future and participate in this major international programme.
"It is essential that the UK continues to play a leading role in European planetary science, engineering and technology.
"Through significant participation in the European Space Agency's Aurora programme, the UK will not only be able to maintain that leadership but also develop its strengths and capabilities still further.
"Aurora offers an exciting vision of exploration on other worlds that will build upon the unprecedented public interest in Beagle 2. Involvement in this ambitious, long-term programme should help to revive young people's enthusiasm for scientific research and technological innovation, and inspire the students of today to become the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.
"Aurora will also offer unique opportunities to learn more about our neighbouring worlds, in particular the possibility of life evolving on Mars. In developing the required technology, many new opportunities will arise in areas such IT and robotics, making a significant contribution to the development of a knowledge-based economy."
Other speakers at the briefing were:
AURORA AND THE FUTURE OF SPACE EXPLORATION
Over the past three years, the European Space Agency has been preparing a road map for future robotic and human exploration of other worlds – particularly the Moon and Mars – under its optional Aurora programme.
The UK and other European governments agreed to provide "!seed corn" funding during this initial stage of the programme, but a decision on whether or not to provide much more substantial financial support for Aurora over the next five years will have to be made within the next year.
This decision will be made against the background of NASA's new Vision for Space Exploration initiative, which was announced by President George W. Bush on 2004 January 14. ESA and its member states are currently examining ways in which Europe might play a leading role in this long-term vision to return to the Moon and eventually send humans to Mars.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
Over the past five months, the Royal Astronomical Society has been sounding out the views of the UK astronomical community concerning not only Aurora, but also the future direction of UK planetary science in general. A report on its findings will be published shortly.
The President's Commission on Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy will release its initial report on Wednesday, June 16.
After a reorganization within ESA, Aurora is now officially known as the Preparatory European Space Exploration Programme (PESEP).
Aurora is part of Europe's strategy for space, endorsed by the European Union Council of Research and the ESA Council in 2001. This strategy calls for Europe to:
The primary objective of Aurora is to create, and then implement, a European long-term plan for the robotic and human exploration of the Solar System, with Mars, the Moon and the asteroids as the most likely targets.
A secondary objective is to search for life beyond the Earth. Future missions under the programme will carry sophisticated exobiology payloads to investigate the possibility of life forms existing on other worlds within the Solar System.
IMAGES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:
UK Aurora Web page:
ESA Aurora / PESEP Web site:
President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond:
NASA's Vision for Space Exploration:
Date: 2004 June 16
Issued by Peter Bond, RAS Press Officer.