Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 1


  A1.1  There has been an accelerating decline in physics education in Britain in recent years [1]. For example, examination entries for A-level physics have fallen from 7.6% in 1982 to 6% in 1990, and to only 3.8% in 2004 , and they are predicted to fall further, as widely reported in the press [2, 3]. This problem is not unique to Britain; a similar problem is reported in other rich countries.

  A1.2  For decades, space agencies in many countries have spent considerable resources trying to encourage children to study scientific subjects. Typically they make use of the spontaneous interest that most children have in space to get them to study related topics—watching videos of astronauts, playing with water rockets, and so on. Unfortunately these activities have not been very effective.

  A1.3  In view of the great popularity of the idea of traveling to space shown by surveys, the possibility of actually traveling to space for themselves can be expected to be much more stimulating to children than watching videos of other people doing so. The sharp rise and decline of physics education in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s is attributed by Professor Richard Smalley to the start and end of the Apollo project [4]. He argues that, for as long as young Americans believed that they might be able to travel to space themselves, many of them became keen to obtain relevant qualifications. However, once it became clear that this was extremely unlikely, due to the cancellation of the project, they lost interest in studying physics. The author has argued on similar lines that space tourism could be part of the solution to the "crisis in aerospace" shown in Table 1 above [5].

  A1.4  Consequently, there is reason to anticipate that the development of passenger space travel, starting with sub-orbital services of which the price could fall to a few thousand pounds/passenger [6], could act as a catalyst to keep young people interested in studying science. Certainly, preparing for space travel can be used as the basis for interesting lessons on many subjects, from biology, chemistry and physics to mathematics, astronomy, ecology, law, economics, psychology and others. The "Teachers in Space" project started recently in the USA aims to make early use of this idea [7].

  A1.5  HMG's failure to address the issue of passenger space travel for more than six years since the Trade and Industry Select Committee raised it in 2000 has not only led to continuing failure to benefit economically from Britain's large investment and business potential in the field of space travel, but has also wasted an important educational opportunity. Both space science and science education have suffered from the decline in the pool of talent trained in relevant disciplines, from which space scientists and science teachers are recruited. Moreover, the failure to exploit space commercially in this way, far from strengthening space science by preserving it from "contamination" by commercial activities, has surely damaged it by reducing the overall interest of the general public. These educational benefits might themselves exceed the cost of developing sub-orbital space tourism. By contrast, pursuing the existing "anti-space tourism policy" would continue to waste this opportunity to make this popular experience available, which requires children to understand more science, and physics in particular.

  A1.6  Longer-term potential

  The growth of the passenger space travel industry to 1 million passengers/year or more taking sub-orbital flights will create a large and growing cohort of people who themselves travel to space. The subsequent development of orbital flights and hotel services, now in the early stages of development, will create an industry requiring large numbers of staff to work in space, as shown in Figure 1.  The vision of this will surely inspire large numbers of children to obtain relevant qualifications.

  A1.7 It is worth noting that these educational benefits can be expected to extend far beyond sub-orbital travel through the progressive development of orbital travel and accommodation services, to include even lunar travel. The author was invited to speak on this subject to the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG) [8], to the Committee On Space Research (COSPAR) [9], and subsequently to turn that presentation into a journal paper [9]. That paper argues that it would not be good for lunar science to try to stop commercial lunar development, which could grow into a major business within a few decades, and that this could be very beneficial for the world economy and for the terrestrial environment.

1.University of Buckingham, 2005, "Physics Crisis Linked to Lack of Qualified Teachers",
2.Anon, 2006, "Physics Teachers Face Extinction", News Bulletin, Daily Telegraph, August 11, p 10.
3.E Brockes, 2006, "Sir, can we do something easier?", Guardian newspaper, August 17, p 7.
4.R Smalley, 2003, "Nanotechnology, Energy and People",
5.P Collins, 2001, "Space Tourism: A Remedy for `Crisis in Aerospace'", Editorial, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Vol 155, No 24, p 98.
6.D Ashford, 2003, "Spaceflight Revolution", Imperial College Press.
8.P Collins, 2004, "The Future of Lunar Tourism", in International Lunar Exploration, American Astyronautical Society, Volume 108, pp 467-480.
9. P Collins, 2006, "Space Tourism: From Earth Orbit to the Moon", Advances in Space Research 37, pp 116-120.

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