Submission from the Centre for Aviation,
Space and Extreme Environment Medicine
1. In recent years there has been a re-evaluation
of the relative merits of human space exploration and a more mature
analysis of the potential advantages that this field might yield
for the UK. Several impartial reviews of this subject (Holdaway
2004, Wakeham 2003, Close 2005) have deconstructed the long held
belief that the UK has nothing to gain from Human Space Exploration
and that human space flight (HSF) is not in this country's strategic
2. Both the Microgravity Review Panel (2003)
and the Aurora Cross Research Council Report (2004) suggest that
HSF programmes would yield many benefits to the UK and warrant
further investigation. The Royal Astronomical Society's Commission
on the Scientific Case for Human Space Flight in 2005, the most
comprehensive, impartial review of its kind, concluded strongly
in favour of human space flight.
3. There exists at this time in the UK a
critical mass of individuals and organisations with an interest
in human space flight and a significant level of technical expertise
in this field. Amongst these is a growing number involved in space
biomedical research. This community has developed over the past
seven years largely through the implementation of the strategy
proposed in 1999 by the UK Space Biomedical Advisory Committee
(UKSBAC) and, despite limited resources, has been successful in
engaging in research and educational projects with international
space partners including the European Space Agency (ESA) and the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
4. Over the past seven years the scientific,
educational and cultural benefits of further participation in
human space exploration programmes have been demonstrated repeatedly
(Fong 2005, Crawford 2004). This same period has seen a progressive
and alarming decline in the uptake of science at school and undergraduate
level with the closure of many University science departments
(Smithers 2006). Human space flight is a first class vehicle for
science education and the communication of scientific ideas to
students at all educational levels. Outreach and the public communication
of scientific ideas has been an integral and successful part of
the UKSBAC strategy and our experience suggests that it provides
role models and context which drive enthusiasm.
5. Despite these arguments cost remains
the principal obstacle to UK re-engagement in programmes of human
space flight. Entry to the ESA astronaut programme would require
an annual subscription of 150 million Euro, a sum which is clearly
prohibitive at this stage.
6. There is an alternative: NASA is now
committed to returning to the Moon and continuing with the human
exploration of the Lunar surface. As a result the agency is currently
in the process of seeking international partners to collaborate
in this effort. In this climate it might be possible to engage
in a limited, less costly, bilateral agreement with NASA with
the goal of further developing UK interest and expertise in human
space flight in the hope that we might later be able to participate
in the proposed programmes of lunar exploration on more equal
7. In summary it is felt that, with the
evidence derived from recent investigations, NASA's renewed commitment
to human space flight and the critical mass of researchers with
relevant expertise that currently exists in the UK, this is an
opportune time to consider re-engagement in international programmes
of human space flight. Through the efforts of UKSBAC, UK Space
Biomedical Group and with assistance from the international space
community we have demonstrated that a UK user community exists,
that the science is of appropriate quality (Close, 2005) and that
there are in addition educational and cultural benefits to be
8. The past seven years have seen a dynamic
evaluation of the costs and benefits of human space flight by
UKSBAC and related organisations. To prevent stagnation we propose
that this evaluation should continue through strategic, bilateral
agreements with NASA. This would allow the UK to further develop
expertise in this field and evaluate the relative costs and benefits
of this programme while deferring the much higher programmatic
costs until a more complete picture can be gained. It would allow
interested parties to set specific metrics by which success or
failure of the programme could be judged, and would allow more
informed arguments regarding the merits and demerits of human
space flight to be made. It would also preserve the experience
base developed over the past decade and the critical mass of expertise
that currently exists. Such a programme could be managed at a
small fraction of the annual ESA subscription costs and would
serve as a logical next step in out strategy of dynamic evaluation.
The Development of the Space Medical and Life
Sciences Community in the UK
In December 1999, in partnership with British
National Space Centre, Dr. Kevin Fong organised the Futures in
UK Space Biomedical Education and Research Conference at University
College London. 152 delegates attended, including senior officials
from the European Space Agency, NASA and the United States' National
Space Biomedical Research Institute. At a meeting held immediately
after the 1999 conference the UKSBAC was created. The goal of
this committee was to gather intelligence from the wider, international
space community, to guide development of UK strategy and to forge
new links between international research groups and UK laboratories.
UKSBAC met annually with senior representatives from NASA, ESA
and BNSC. A five-year, 3 Phase strategy was agreed upon. Phase
1 proposed the function of the UKSBAC as a steering committee
and the establishment of an undergraduate education course in
Space Medicine at a UK centre of excellence. This "bottom-up"
approach was a departure from previous strategies and facilitated
progress where resources were scarce.
Phase 1: 1999-2000
The Phase 1 goals were achieved by the end of
2000 with the launch of the Space Medicine and Extreme Environment
Physiology undergraduate course at University College London.
Now in its sixth year with over 150 alumni it is amongst the most
popular courses in the final year of physiology at UCL.
Phase 2: 2001-02
Phase 2 proposed the establishment of a research
group capable of identifying opportunities and generating a nucleus
research effort. This was achieved through the creation of the
Centre of Aviation, Space and Extreme environment medicine (CASE)
at UCL in 2002. CASE, a small research group comprising physicians
and scientists with an interest in the parallels that exist between
extreme environment physiology and critical care medicine, took
command of the undergraduate programmes at UCL and created further
opportunities for student placements with NASA and ESA.
Phase 3: 2003-04
Phase 3, proposed the establishment of a multi-centre
effort in UK space medicine and physiology. UKSBAC indicated that,
in the absence of large scale supporting funds from an external
source, this goal was unlikely to be achieved. Indeed in the absence
of evidence of a change in stance from UK Government ESA formally
withdrew its support for human space flight related research and
education activities in the UK in 2004.
9. The Current UK Space Life and Medical
Despite the lack of formal funding structures
a large number of individuals and organisations have continued
to pursue their interest in biomedical science. This state of
affairs cannot be sustained indefinitely and the effort is in
danger of stagnation and collapse if formal support does not materialise.
10. Currently we provide some support for
the undergraduate community in the UK and facilitate student placements
at NASA and ESA field centres. There are no formal opportunities
for postgraduates and, at this level, further involvement in programmes
of human space flight generally involve emigration from the UK.
11. The existing research council structure
is too narrow in remit to provide a mechanism for the funding
of this nascent effort and, given that the benefits that would
derive from human space flight activities go across traditional
boundaries between science, education and culture an alternative
funding strategy is perhaps required.
12. The Scientific Case
The Royal Astronomical Society's (RAS) 2005
Report on "The Scientific Case for Human Space Flight"
(Close et al 2005) represents a current, comprehensive
and impartial review of the arguments for and against HSF and
found strongly in favour of further participation in this field.
The findings of this report are all the more remarkable since
the commissioners themselves admit to having started with the
private the view that HSF represented poor quality science and
was not worth the expense. However they would finally conclude
13. "In summary, we find that profound
scientific questions relating to the history of the solar system
and the existence of life beyond Earth can bestperhaps
onlybe achieved by human exploration on the Moon or Mars,
supported by appropriate automated systems The wider commercial
educational, social and political benefits help justify the substantial
expenditure that full UK participation in a future international
programme of HSE will require. A BBC recent web site poll of public
opinion has suggested that there would be strong support for such
involvement by the UK. It is hard to conceive that the UK, one
of the world's leading economies, would stand aside from such
a global scientific and technological endeavour. We therefore
regard it as timely for HMG to re-evaluate its long-standing opposition
to British involvement in human space exploration." (Close
et al 2005)
14. Life and medical sciences are also part
of the scientific case for HSF (Fong, 2005). Weightlessness offers
an opportunity to study fundamental properties of many biological
systems, allowing us to compare and contrast the physiology of
space flight with the terrestrial disease processes that it reversibly
mimics, while furthering our understanding of both (Fong, 2004).
The use of the space environment to investigate physiology offers
a unique tool allowing biological systems to be studied at boundary
conditions (Fong, 2001). The physiology of extreme physical environments,
and microgravity in particular, has parallels with the process
of ageing and critical illness (eg Paloski et al, 2004).
Of specific interest are the effects of microgravity upon the
cardiovascular system (Zhang, 2001; Waters et al, 2002),
muscle (Fitts et al, 2001), bone (Turner, 2000; Vico et
al, 2000), and the neurovestibular system (Lackner, 1992;
15. Science Education and the Economy
Figures from Higher Education Statistics Agency
compiled in the 2005 paint a bleak picture for the future of science
and engineering in the UK. Comparing the year 2000 with 2003,
the number of chemistry graduates fell by 7.5%, whilst for physics
the number dropped by 5.6%. (Higher Education Statistics Agency,
2005). The more recent report on Physics in Schools and Universities
published by Smithers et al is more alarming still. Between
1994 and 2004, 24 physics departments closed. At the same time
the number of UK students reading physics fell by 905 (28.9%),
including 166 from the 26 top-rated departments in the 2001 RAE
(8.2%). (Smithers et al, 2006.)
16. This declining interest in science is
progressive and nothing so far attempted has succeeded in slowing
this trend. The consequences of this and the threat that this
poses to the economy are discussed in the HM Treasury Report "SET
for Success: the supply of people with science, technology, engineering
and mathematics skills" (Roberts, 2002).
17. At the same time, the Department of
Trade and Industry's five-year Programme, published at the end
of 2004, talks of the need to develop a `knowledge based economy'.
This strategy depends upon the UK's pre-eminence in science. It
is clear that this goal cannot be achieved given the progressive
decline in the popularity of mathematics and science at school,
undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
18. The popularity of science throughout
the education system in the UK is plummeting. It is worth considering
the potential impact that UK involvement in astronautics programmes
might have. There is a positive correlation between NASA's allocated
budget and the number of PhD's gained in technical fields in the
United States. The relationship shows graduate numbers climbing
steadily during the MercuryApollo era from 1961 to 1972
and then falling progressively thereafter (Ehlmann et al,
2002). This should not surprise us; space science, and in particular
human space flight, has always been a first class vehicle for
19. HSF is especially well suited to the
task of reinvigorating interest in science amongst our school
children and undergraduates: a multidisciplinary subject with
an embedded human story, where cutting edge science finds practical
application in the most dramatic of fashions. This potential benefit
was recognised by the independent Microgravity Review Panel (Wakeham
et al, 2003), which was established to examine the case
for UK participation in the exploitation of the International
"We have also found considerable public
interest in activities in space, particularly those that have
human involvement. This has been exploited by several space agencies
to enhance the interest of the community in science and its applications,
and the UK could do the same."
20. The programmes of scientific research
upon which we embark at this time will be prosecuted not by us
but by the current generation of schoolchildren, a generation
that is turning away from science as never before. At a time when
university science departments up and down the country are closing
through lack of students, can we afford to ignore this aspect
of human space flight activity?
21. Conclusions and Recommendations
There currently exists a critical mass of researchers
with an interest in human space flight. The intelligence gained
through the Royal Astronomical Society's efforts, the Aurora Cross
Council Meeting and UKSBAC in favour of human space flight is
current and, given that this has emerged through the exhaustive
efforts of a large number of individuals working voluntarily,
this is this is likely to be the most accurate and complete picture
that the UK will ever achieve.
22. If the UK believes that there may be
a case to be put for a British astronaut at some point in the
future but not immediately one must ask how this case will be
eventually be made? In the absence of further engagement in programmes
of HSF, the assembled groups and individuals that currently exist
and serve to gather intelligence will disband. In their absence
there will be no mechanism to cultivate new researchers with an
interest in this area and there will exist no community who can
inform future debate. In this regard the "wait and see"
approach is fundamentally flawed. This opportunity for re-engagement
in the field of human space flight is truly ephemeral. In the
next five years the United Kingdom should extend its evaluation
of the case for human space flight through a cost effective, bilateral
agreement with an international space agency partner, with NASA
likely the best candidate.
23. There is broad agreement that engagement
in programmes of human space exploration would yield a wide range
of benefits to the UK, returning value across he spectrum from
science and education to culture and the public understanding
of science. With the body of evidence presented on this subject
by multiple recent, independent reviews, we should carefully consider
the cost to the UK of non-participation.
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for Human Exploration of the Red Planet, Group Report of the
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Fong, K: 2001, Earth, Moon, Planets 87,
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Fong, K: Earth, Moon, and Planets (2005)
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