AE 130

The Citizens’ Debate on Space for Europe

What’s the difference between the space agency and other departments of government such as health, social security or defence? Perhaps the difference is that, to the public, the purpose of the more traditional ministries is self-evident, while that of space is not so obvious at all?

The same would be true of research councils, of course, or of public support for the arts. Yet the space agencies have big big ambitions. Extremely costly ambitions: to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars, and set up permanent scientific bases on those worlds.

If their political masters are not willing to put up the funds, then the agencies must go behind the politicians’ backs and address the taproot of democratic power: the people. That, at any rate, seems to be the logic behind the European Space Agency’s new exercise in public consultation, the Citizens’ Debate on Space for Europe.

On 10 September, groups of members of the general public were assembled in capitals in all of ESA’s 22 member states simultaneously. In the UK the event took place in Edinburgh. I took the Caledonian sleeper train north to play my part as a typical (!) citizen.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.


AE 127

Brexit! Thoughts on the UK Referendum Result

What happens now? – A clash of ideologies


The referendum result announced on 24 June was that 48% of votes cast were in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union, while 52% of votes were in favour of a British exit.

Does this mean that the UK will actually leave the European Union? I predict that despite the vote the UK will not leave.

The Brexit affair has implications for the general ordering of society in the longer term, both on Earth and, in due course, at other locations in the Solar System.

The long term future of human civilisation, together with its extension on an interplanetary and ultimately an interstellar scale, depends upon the continuation of the present pattern of growth and progress. This is why I am a cosmopolitan.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 121

A Strategic Goal for Humanity on Earth and in Space in 2061

What should we be telling our schoolchildren during and after Tim Peake’s flight to the ISS?

In my previous post I was critical of the UK space strategy’s focus on Tim Peake’s mission to the ISS. But what should we offer in its place?

It’s time to stop being timid about what spaceflight means for the human future. Any strategy needs a well-defined goal in order to draw up an efficient plan of work towards that goal. So let us state where we could be in 2061, the centenary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight into space, if we address the question of our legacy to future generations with the robustness it deserves.

By 2061 this view could be experienced by a hundred people a month. (NASA Goddard)

By 2061 this view could be experienced by a hundred people a month. (NASA Goddard)

In 2061, just 45 years in the future and within the working lifetime of today’s schoolchildren and university students…

  1. 10,000 people visit low Earth orbit every year – some for microgravity research and manufacturing, most for space holidays – staying at one of a dozen commercial space stations.


Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 120

Britain Takes the Wrong Approach to Manned Spaceflight

I’m sorry to rain on everyone else’s parade. But I cannot feel any enthusiasm for Tim Peake’s upcoming six-month mission to the International Space Station.

Tim Peake

Tim Peake: trailblazing progress, or running into a dead end? (Marie Schmidt for the Guardian)

Government-led astronautics has got itself into a blind alley and slowly ground to a halt. The peak in terms of space travellers flying per year was reached fully thirty years ago. The annual man-days in space peaked in 2010, as six-person occupation of the ISS coincided with the last few Shuttle flights. A small increase in time spent in space would be possible with a seven-man crew on the ISS and more activity on the Chinese Tian Gong station. But that would be the absolute limit under present conditions.

What about exploration? The new focus of space agencies on exploration beyond low Earth orbit will certainly reduce the number of opportunities for government astronauts to fly, and increase the cost per astronaut seat, making space travel even more exceptional than it is today.

The socialist ideology that manned spaceflight must remain a government monopoly is slowly being broken! Progress now lies in the hands of the commercial companies in the USA tasked with taking over transport services to and from low Earth orbit. While their immediate goal remains the ISS for the present, only they can develop an independent, economically sustainable passenger spaceflight industry. This is the pattern that Britain needs to emulate!

Accordingly, at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s one-day conference on Britain’s manned spaceflight policy on 1 December, I contributed the following five-minute talk…

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.