Why should the UK be involved?

Public interest, and space as a means of inspiration

The UK has always been a leader in forward-looking science activities, and involvement in the Aurora programme will allow the UK to be at the forefront of space space science. If offers opportunities for various branches of science, engineering and research, and all the main research councils have agreed on the benefits of the UK's involvement.

A paper by PPARC (now part of the Science & Technology Facilities Council) stated:

With the development of major space exploration programmes by ESA and NASA, there is a window of opportunity for the UK to be the leading player in this international scene."

Additionally, a MORI poll showed that the general public looks on space exploration as an area which inspires national pride and self-esteem.

According to a BBC news item, headed "UK must back Europe space plans":

"British space expertise will be wasted unless the government backs Europe's ambitious Aurora programme. Mike Healy, UK director of Earth observation, navigation and science for EADS-Astrium, summed up the argument when he went before a committee of MPs.

Healy said; "I think it's worth saying that it would be a complete waste of all the time and money and energy that's been put into Beagle 2 if that was the end of it - if we didn't go into Aurora or something like that."

You can read the BBC news report here.

Also, very importantly, Aurora will provide considerable inspiration to young people. The theme of the 2012 Olympics was "Inspire a generation", the aim being to inspire the next generation of people to become the sportsmen and women of the future. So why shouldn't programmes like Aurora inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

There is a huge public interest in spaceflight, as witnessed by the Beagle 2 mission and the American Mars rovers, with many people wanting to work in space-related industry or research. But these people need to be able to have the opportunity to do so. In a major survey of UK students, they were asked if they would move abroad if they were unable to follow their interest within the UK; only 1/3 said "No". This represents a potentially huge loss of talent, as the young people of today will be involved in the projects of tomorrow; we do not want them leaving the UK to achieve their goals.

Pete Aldridge, chair of the President's Commission on the Moon, Mars and Beyond, stated:

"We should take advantage of this unique opportunity to inspire our youth, motivate our teachers and improve maths, science and engineering education for our future workforce. In fact we must do all of these things to succeed."

It is well known that human ingenuity rises to face challenges, and runs the risk of stagnation when there is a lack of drive. Here is a long-term challenge which will provide jobs and a stimulus to science, engineering and research, as well as acting as inspiration to the young people who will take up the future elements of this challenge.

The ESA funding method means that countries making a contribution to programmes such as Aurora receive back the equivalent amount in contracts for work on the programme. What the payments do is to guarantee involvement by that countries space industry.

In the UK, Astrium at Stevenage in Hertfordshire has been a major player in Aurora, constructing three prototypes of the ExoMars rover that ESA plans to launch to Mars in 2018. By maintaining our involvement in Aurora, it is likely that Astrium will be a primary contractor in building the spacecraft for the mission.

Aurora will go ahead.

We must decide whether to take part in this exciting challenge and reap the rewards of involvement, or whether we will merely be spectators in the exploration of Mars.

Information on the Aurora programme can be found on the ESA website, and information on the UK's involvement can be found on this page on the website of the UK Space Agency.