credit: Flight/NASA / caption: Brits unlikely to be over the Moon come mid-2009
By mid-2009 the European Space Agency would have selected its next four astronauts and if you believe what you read in the UK media then one of those could be British but Hyperbola's sources within ESA indicate that short of a miracle a British subject won't have enough of the right stuff, by which I mean government "support" through human spaceflight funding. Instead the fourth astronaut could be Danish...
Yes the Vikings could be in pole position for that final fourth place (and before anyone mentions it I am aware of the Swedish born ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang). Hyperbola hears that three of the four will be a French man, a German and an Italian (these three countries pay the bulk of ESA's involvement with ISS so no surprise there) with the fourth apparently at the largesse of ESA's director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain as he will interview the final forty, so I am told
While it is true that about 20 Brits are among the 192 candidates, down selected from the 918 chosen from the more than 8,000 plus initial applications, I don't expect them to reach the final 40; even when some of those UK subjects are, so I hear, aviators
But why a Danish astronaut? It is more obvious than you would think. After the International Space Station ESA's most high profile human spaceflight programme is its joint project with the Russians, the Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) and then its ESA-only alternative, named by EADS Astrium Deutschland as Crew Transportation System Europäische (I think)
For CSTS there is a second tier of countries involved in the study work beyond the giants of EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space that are leading the western European half of the Euro-Russian CSTS consortium. That second tier includes Denmark, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. But the Dutch and Belgians already have astronauts in Andre Kuipers and Frank De Winne, respectively
So yes we could see a Spaniard selected (but I thought Vikings would look better in my blog's headline). It certainly is a country that is investing in its aerospace industry, I have seen that for myself over the last few years. Spain, uncharacteristically, was even blamed at one stage, from certain quarters, for the delays to the Galileo satellite navigation programme over squabbling around a ground station. So don't be too surprised if that southern European nation puts its money where its astronaut visor could be
I had heard a rumour that the UK might have a role in hardware for CSTS but I find that highly doubtful. Maybe hardware for the ESA contribution to the International Lunar Network of robotic seismology landers but little else
The trends we have seen in the UK is towards having an ESA blessed robotic facility and that started with the multi-millionaire Lord Sainsbury, who is a major donor to the Labour party and was science minister from 1998 until the end of 2006
Since then the UK government has had three science ministers, the members of the UK parliament's House of Commons, Malcolm Wicks and Ian Pearson, and now Lord Drayson, another mega-rich donor to the Labour party. It is still not clear what the UK will do in expanding this robotics element
Asking Pearson (and his British National Space Centre (BNSC) director David Williams) at a media lunch cum space strategy launch earlier this year the journalists were all told that little could be said
This convenient silence was because of the needs of the UK negotiating position for the November meeting of ESA's triennial gathering of member state ministers that decide the agency's budget and plans
Drayson, when he became science minister with a flurry of pro-astronaut stories in his wake, said that a report, a review, of whether there should be a UK astronaut would be ready in "the next six months". Hello?
Flight had been told in October 2007 that a decision to change the policy could be reached by October 2008. Pearson and Williams in February did not deviate from that game plan. This made sense because then the UK could argue why it should get the fourth astronaut place at the ministerial. That isn't going to happen now
Following the ministerial, which is being held from 25-26 November, I'll be calling BNSC to find out just what the UK agreed too. My advice is don't get your hopes up too high, unless your Danish of course