Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 53

Submission from Jerry Stone

  I have had a keen interest in space research and exploration since early childhood, following the space programmes of the USA and USSR. I have built up a large collection of material on the subject, which I use in presentations and public exhibitions. I gave my first talk on space exploration in 1969 whilst still at school, and since then have given several hundred. My work has been recognised by various organisations, including NASA.

  I am now a freelance presenter on space and astronomy, and give presentation across the UK and abroad to all types of audiences. I am currently developing a range of workshops for schools on astronomy and space.

  I am a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, a Director of the Mars Society UK and Vice-Chair of the Space Education Council. I am also Director of the Sir Arthur Clarke Awards, which recognise and reward the best of UK space achievement.


  Space probably affects more aspects of our lives than any other subject. For many, particularly young people, it is the most inspiring topic. Yet most of that inspiration comes from the activities of other nations. I believe that the UK's position with regard to space could be much greater than it is. Were this to be so, there could be great economic benefit to the country, and yet this could be achieved without additional Government spending, but merely by reallocation of existing funds.

  This situation could be achieved via the following recommendations:

    —  Greater emphasis on space topics in schools, tapping in on the highly inspirational value of the subject, and encouraging pupils to study the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This would help reverse the appalling downturn in the number of students taking these subjects at A-Level.

    —  A UK manned space programme, providing for involvement on the International Space Station, and—in the future—the possibility of UK involvement with plans for missions to the Moon and Mars.

    —  A UK Space Agency, with the ability to direct space policy, and the budget to realise it.

  One result of the above actions would be to help ensure that we had the technological resources—in personnel, research and facilities—to meet the many challenges that we will face as a nation in the future.

  Other outcomes would be an increase our national self-esteem, and placing us more at the forefront of Europe, which has been a stated aim of the Prime Minister.


  The UK public is extremely interested is space research, and even more so when the project concerned has a high UK involvement. This was dramatically borne out with the Beagle 2 project, and, to a slightly lesser degree, the Huygens probe which landed on Titan. Yet many people were unaware that the UK had a space programme that pre-dated Beagle 2. This was reflected in the cover of a brochure from the "Case For Space" group, which had a cover which read; "Space: Britain's best kept secret!"

  The situation is that, for the most part, our involvement with space is low-key. In the field of space exploration, it is current policy only to be involved with robotic probes, in the belief that they provide the best value for money. However, during the first 330 days on the surface of Mars, the Spirit rover only covered 3.9km. This can be compared with the 35km covered in just three days by the astronauts of Apollo 17. In addition, in their 22 hours on the surface, the Apollo 17 astronauts obtained a 3 m deep core sample of the regolith, measured the lunar heat flow by sinking thermocouples about 2 m below the surface, deployed eight explosive packages around the Taurus-Littrow valley as part of an active seismic profiling experiment, measured the local gravity field, measured the mechanical and electrical properties of the lunar regolith, and performed a number of additional surface experiments—all in just three days of field work! Although we are not yet in a position to send astronauts to Mars, there can be no doubt that human exploration is order of magnitude more efficient than robots, and they can perform activities that robots simply cannot.

  Space research, and particularly space exploration, is the most exciting and inspiring human activity there is. I will never forget that magical night back in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, and I was able to watch, live, as men from Earth walked for the first time on the surface of another world. Now I give presentation to audiences who weren't born until after the last man had walked on the Moon, and, until recently, they had always asked: When will we go back?". Nowadays people ask; "Why isn't the UK involved? Why don't we have astronauts on the International Space Station?".

  In July, I gave a presentation in the Space Pavilion at the Farnborough Air Show. I mentioned that the recent space shuttle mission had included Piers Sellers, who was born in Sussex, but had to become a US citizen in order to become an astronaut. Another member of the crew was Thomas Reiter, a German astronaut who is staying on the ISS for six months as a member of the main crew. Reiter is one of four German astronauts, who are in turn members of the European astronaut corps. The others include four from Italy, three from France, and once each from Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and even Belgium, which spends far more per head of population on space than the UK. The question I put to the audience, and to you now is; "Are all these countries wrong in their belief in the value of a manned space programme—or is it the UK that is out of step in its thinking?"

  Yet the situation used to be different. British explorers used to cover the world. Drake, Raleigh, Cook and Shackleton were among those whose names stand out in history. Why shouldn't the UK once again have explorers that we can look up to, who can help expand the frontiers of our knowledge?

  I took part in a meeting earlier this year at the British Interplanetary Society, on the subject of human space exploration. The meeting was convinced that the arguments put forward showed the benefit of UK involvement, and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution which stated the belief that the UK should play an active part in a human spaceflight programme, and thereby reap the benefits that such involvement would offer, and that such activities should be managed by an appropriate national body. This is described more fully in the October issue of the BIS magazine "Spaceflight". It suggests a programme at £10 million per year, providing for two UK astronauts to fly two mission by Soyuz to the ISS over a five-year period. This would give the ability to carry out UK science programmes, which is currently impossible due to our lack of funding for elements of the ISS, such ass the European Columbus module.

  Inherent in the recommendation is the establishment of a national space agency, which would have a different function from the BNSC, whose remit is to co-ordinate UK space activity, rather than to direct it. I believe that the lack of such an agency is holding us back from being able to propose and carry out national space activities.

  Such a programme would have an enormous inspirational effect on school pupils, and would help reverse the current downturn in the numbers taking science and mathematics at A-level. The following in appendix 1 shows the reduction of A-level entries between 1991 and 2003.

  This represents a wastage that we cannot afford. It also reduces our ability for future involvement in activities in science and technology to come, for the youngsters of today will be involved in the projects of tomorrow.

  The question that is most often put is how the UK could afford to be involved in space exploration. Firstly the fact is that the UK has the world's fifth greatest economy. I have also show above that the costs of a programme need not be dramatic. However, there is already an area of government funding that could provide far more than the most ambitious programme would require. The following graph shows the amounts that were assigned to cover the costs of clinical negligence between 1996 and 2003. The blocks in green represent the amounts actually paid out during this period, which fortunately have declined. However, in addition, other amounts, shown in red, were put into a fund intended to cover future claims. What is remarkable is that, although in 2003-04, only £10.5 million was paid out, nearly £2 billion was added to this fund, increasing its total to nearly £8 billion. The small light-blue block show the annual UK space budget, and the dark blue block shows the expected cost of involvement in the construction of a lunar base by the European Space Agency.

  I believe that the benefits of space research should be promoted more widely to the public and in schools. 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the space age, and would be an ideal time for such a programme of outreach and education.

October 2006

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