Human Space Flight

Human Space Flight

“In half a century, space exploration has achieved goals that matched the dreams and speculations of us BIS space cadets in the 1930’s! We must rekindle that spirit in a new generation of 21st century astronauts, to seize the opportunities that are now opening up for low cost access to space” Sir Arthur C. Clarke (September 2007)

As the world’s longest established space exploration society, being formed by British visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke in the 1930’s, the BIS is committed to ensuring that the UK joins with the rest of the industrialised world and takes part in human space activities.

This webpage provides information regarding the current British human space flight campaign. It explains what can be done in terms of lobbying approaches to government, national space policy makers and relevant organisations in the UK. It also provides information about a possible low-cost approach to getting “Britons in Space”, via access to the International Space Station (ISS).

The campaign has been supported by a host of celebrities and scientists, including Brian Blessed, Myleene Klass, Harriet Scott, the late Sir Patrick Moore, Dr. Michael Foale, the late Prof Colin Pillinger and Dr Heather Couper.


The BIS is delighted that in May 2009 the European Space Agency (ESA) appointed Major Tim Peake of the UK as a new “European” astronaut. Now Tim has flown on Expedition 46/47 to the ISS in December 2015, via Soyuz, which is excellent for the UK.

Also, in November in 2012 the UK’s Science Minister David Willetts confirmed at the ESA Ministerial meeting that £12 million would be put into the ELIPS microgravity research initiative and £16 million will help support UK involvement in the NASA Orion crewed spacecraft for the future.

However, despite being one of the world’s largest economies, the UK still has no large scale manned space presence or interest in human space industry activities. Although the UK does manufacture some unmanned satellites (via companies such as EADS Astrium and SSTL), there is still only a limited support to human space research or its related space infrastructure.

Whilst the rest of Europe, the US, Russia, China, Japan and many emerging industrialised nations (for example Brazil, Malaysia, South Korea and India) all explore space through human approaches, the UK has missed out – this is against the national good.

Following a 2006 revue of the perceived scientific and educational value of human spaceflight, the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) resolved that the UK would strongly benefit from a modest astronaut presence. This view follows the independent report of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in October 2005, where Prof Frank Close and his team drew attention to the wide ranging scientific and cultural benefits of human space flight – they recommended that the UK committed more money to the human exploration of space, at least to a figure in line with the UK’s partners in the European Space Agency (ESA).

Other recent scientific studies have also recognised potential human space benefits for the UK. In 2003, the independent Microgravity Review Panel recommended the UK join microgravity research on the International Space Station (ISS). In May 2004, the Cross Research Council Report called for the UK to join the manned aspects of the ESA’s Aurora programme, one day leading to the human exploration of the Moon, Mars and the solar system.

Recent Expert Recommendations to Government

Following representations by many in the space community, in July 2007 the Commons Select Committee recommended that the UK government abandon its ‘in-principle’ block on UK human spaceflight missions.

In September 2007, the UK Space Exploration Working group (SEWG) issued its wide-ranging report on space policy and firmly endorsed the “pro-UK astronaut” case. It effectively endorsed the BIS low-cost campaign proposals (see below) by advising the then BNSC (now the UK Space Agency, “UKSA”) and the Space Minister that a modest UK astronaut corps could be established and that flights to the ISS could begin by 2010-12 via Soyuz spacecraft.

This “Space Exploration Review” is now built into the UK Space Strategy 2008-2012. The BNSC’s specialist panel reported back to the subsequent Minister, Lord Drayson, and the Secretary of State John Denham, with options for the future including the expansion of the UK civil space budget by a modest amount to engage in human spaceflight activity. This approach needs to now be implemented by government financial commitment via the recently formed (2010) UKSA.

  • The UK government’s investment in space is about one quarter of that of equivalent European nations like Germany and France.
  • The UK has the second largest aerospace industry, but only 3% is space-related (Europe is 10-15% and the US is 25%).
  • The only UK astronaut, Helen Sharman, flew into space (in 1991) with no government backing – the mission was paid for by the then Soviet Union.
  • NASA astronauts Michael Foale, Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick were British born. Michael Foale has joint nationality but Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick had to become American citizens to fly into space. Space tourist Richard Garriott is a US citizen though he was born in the UK.
  • During the 2008 ESA astronaut selection, over 850 applicants (10% and the 4th largest of the ESA total) were from the UK.
  • Drug research on the ISS could potentially lead to bone and muscle atrophy treatments for older people on Earth.
  • UK science and technology education desperately needs boosting – physics graduate courses have dropped by 17% in ten years. Human space flight is very inspirational for young people.

Low Cost British HSF Project

The modest BIS/SEWG programme involves a £60-75 million “precursor” programme over 5 years. It would establish a small but viable UK astronaut corps of 3-4 scientist-astronauts. Two science-education 10-day missions could then visit the ISS as part of a microgravity research programme, via Soyuz spacecraft. Important science research, perhaps including biomedical, climate change monitoring and materials experiments linked to schools and Universities activities, could then occur.

After the flights, the UK scientist astronauts could undertake inspirational schools education outreach work, helping to reverse the trend of declining science and technology course take-up. The cost involved would only require an increase of the UK space budget, currently about £240 million, by about 5% a year.

This low cost astronaut programme could be expanded for the future, eventually leading to committed British human involvement with the return to the Moon plans of ESA, NASA deep space Orion missions and the international exploration of Mars and the Solar System.

Campaign Action

The following can be done to help change current UK policy:

    Contact the UKSA ( [email protected] ) and the Science Minister, Jo Johnson ( [email protected] ) and ask that the current UK government takes the advice of the BIS, the Select Committee and the SER report and reverses the current very low funding of UK human space flight.

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