As the previous post noted, space exploration isn’t a high priority among the British public. Yet, they certainly like to talk about space policy. The BBC reported this week that the British government is planning a “major revamp” of its space policy, including reorganizing and relocating its space office. The British National Space Centre (BNSC) is being moved from London to Swindon, which is also home to the Science and Technology Facilities Council, which funds space sciences research in the UK. Some of the BNSC’s responsibilities will also be transferred to another office, the Technology Strategy Board, according to the BBC report. This comes after earlier complaints that the BNSC is, in general, not effective, and should be replaced with a full-fledged space agency like NASA.
One of those who called last year for a UK space agency was Lord Martin Rees, the president of the Royal Society. Lord Rees was in the news this week when he said that Europe should abandon human spaceflight and instead endeavor to get the “world lead” in robotic spaceflight. “We can be more effective in space if we focus all our budget on miniaturisation, robotics, and fabricators and avoid manned spaceflight,” he told the BBC. He added: “If I was an American, I would be opposed to a return to the Moon and going to Mars.” Rees’s arguments aren’t new: back in 2003, before President Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration, Rees was skeptical about the future of government-run human spaceflight, saying only the private sector was able to accept the risks inherent with such exploration. “I think the future of manned spaceflight will only brighten if it’s done by people prepared to cut costs and take risks in a fashion that’s seemingly unacceptable to the U.S. public in a NASA project,” he told SPACE.com in December 2003.
Update: Flightglobal.com reports that Rees’s comments have caused a “backlash” in the UK space science community, at least among those who have advocated that the UK participate in European human spaceflight activities. One Royal Astronomical Society official, Ian Crawford, said that Rees’s comments suggested that he “ought to be more familiar with the scientific benefits” of human spaceflight in areas such as planetary geology and life sciences. And retired BBC spaceflight commentator Reg Turnill had this to say: “Rees’ attitude to human spaceflight is at least a century out of date, but does have the huge merit of getting the subject discussed. He can also be assured that future generations will remember him for all the wrong reasons.”