Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 24

Submission from Dr Tamara Banerjee



  1.  The UK has the potential to be a world leader in the field of space medicine. They have talented doctors and scientists actively trying to move the UK forward, but this is proving to be impossible without national support. This is detrimental to UK education, research and the UK economy. The UK needs to be involved in the human spaceflight programme.


  2.  I am currently a junior physician in Oxford. As a medical student I had the privilege of being able to participate in a student parabolic flight campaign, organised and funded by ESA. My interest in this area has snowballed since this once in a lifetime opportunity. An experiment of mine was flown on the Foton M1 mission in Russia, and on the Cervantes mission to the ISS. Our team was from the UK but it was the ESA outreach programme that enabled us to do this. There are many students who are fascinated by space and space travel. The UK must start providing opportunities of its own to ignite young students' interests in pursuing a science career.

  3.  Through a contact from another founding UKSBG member, I spent eight weeks as an investigator for the Women International Space Simulation for Exploration 60 day bed rest study which took place in Toulouse, 2005. This was a unique opportunity to observe the work of top researchers in the space physiology field, where teams from the USA, Canada and Europe were all collaborating to make advances for human space flight. It was sad that the UK was unable to be a part of this. I was a member of the University of California, San Diego team, NASA trialling a lower body negative pressure device to potentially be used as an exercise countermeasure on the ISS. This has many medical applications on Earth too, and is being used in the UCSD orthopaedic department. I am still involved in this project and have personally benefited from being part it, but I am only able to play a minor role. UK researchers should be able to contribute to these campaigns in a major way, and have the opportunity to take leading roles in these advanced medical projects.

  4.  I would love to pursue a PhD in the UK in space medicine/physiology. This is currently impossible. There are no post-graduate opportunities in this field. There are leading space physicians and physiologists from the UK but they all work abroad. I, along with many of my peers, am being forced to move abroad to pursue a career in this field and will be of detriment to the UK science community as well as the NHS.

  5.  A panel of four UK doctors (including myself) and two American doctors talked at the Aerospace Medicine Association conference in Florida, 2006 about the medical skills set needed for a mission to Mars. This was very well received, and our colleagues from NASA were astonished that even without governmental support, there are such vibrant and knowledgeable space medicine experts in the UK. These experts will not exist for very much longer, because they are currently totally unsupported within the UK, and will be unable to maintain their interests with government backing.

  6.  The transition from aviation to aerospace travel started in the 1960s and is progressing quickly, with the prospect of going back to the Moon, going to Mars, and increasing space tourism. This is happening without input from the UK. We should not stand here and watch other countries stride ahead, and lose the huge benefits to be gained from a healthy space medicine research community.

October 2006

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