British hopes of seeing a UK native walk on the moon have received a boost today with the announcement of a partnership between NASA and the UK Space Agency.
A statement, signed by the space agencies of the two nations, ‘essentially’ paves the way for the UK to send an astronaut on a lunar mission.
It comes on the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 – four days before the iconic moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon for the first time.
The agreement was announced in a speech from Science Minister Chris Skidmore at the Policy Exchange in London on Embracing the New Space Age.
Asked whether it meant the UK was one step closer to putting someone on the moon, Mr Skidmore said: ‘Essentially, yes.’
He added that he did not want to offer false optimism when the first priorities ‘are around earth observation, Copernicus (EU Earth observation programme), around maintaining stability of financing around our existing programmes and working towards Tim Peake getting back up for that second mission on the international space station’.
Mr Skidmore continued: ‘We know that today’s announcement with NASA provides for a wider international context – of which ESA (European Space Agency) must always be our hub.
‘The spokes that come off it allow for future participation, so I think an important announcement which will help pave the way for future engagement.’
The UK Space Agency said it recognises the scientific benefits of missions to the moon and the important role the growing commercial space sector will play in providing services on the lunar surface and in orbit.
The statement of intent on lunar research and exploration highlights the common interests of the UK and US in space, and the role that both nations can play in addressing major scientific questions.
Mr Skidmore said further lunar missions could set out a basis for further space travel.
He explained: ‘The question that ESA are very interested in is to what extent you use the moon as a basis for obviously going further out on to Mars for the future.
‘Obviously there are other areas of the moon to explore that haven’t yet been investigated.’
NASA and the UK Space Agency will establish a working group to co-ordinate joint scientific research and identify future opportunities to work together later this year.
Mr Skidmore said this represents the first time the two agencies have worked together in this way.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: ‘International collaboration is at the heart of space exploration and we want to work with partners around the world to deliver incredible science, develop innovative technologies and explore the solar system.
‘The UK Space Agency and NASA are already working on missions such as the Mars InSight lander, but there is so much more we can achieve together in the new space age.’