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UK “should send humans into space” says exploration report

The UK should examine soon whether to engage in human spaceflight after 2010 with a detailed plan, according to the Space Exploration Working Group (SEWG) report by the UK government's civil space co-ordinator, the British National Space Centre.

Since the start of the space age the UK government's policy has been opposed to human spaceflight.

If implemented as part of the UK's new space strategy, which will be announced in the next few weeks, it will be a significant policy reversal and has major implications for space funding.

Currently UK civil programes cost about £200 million ($406 million) a year. At NASA the astronaut and Shuttle programmes together represent about $6 billion out of a total budget of around $17 billion.

"We recommend that the UK engages in preparatory human spaceflight activites [and] we should extend the UK's significant role in robotic exploration," says SEWG chairman Frank Close.

The UK is already a leading nation in the European Space Agency's Aurora programme that is to send rovers and other probes to Mars.

An increase in robotics could see involvement in NASA lunar projects and perhaps Chinese, Indian and Japanese planned Moon missions as well as any future ESA proposals - Aurora may be changed in the coming year to include lunar robotics.

Four UK citizens have gone into space: Helen Sharman on Project Juno, the Soviet mission to Mir in 1991 and since then Michael Foale, Nichola Patrick and Piers Sellers on NASA Space Shuttle missions.

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