Next year could be a milestone for space exploration. The world's major spacefaring nations should be fleshing out plans for a new era of collaborative missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. And, finally, the UK - that ancient island of world explorers and landmark scientists - looks set to join them.

Or, maybe not. While UK science minister Lord Drayson raised great hopes in announcing a UK space agency, there seems, as is so often the case, to be a sizeable gap between the UK's dreams and its willingness to pay the bills. As Drayson told Flight International, there will be an agency but no extra funding for space.

The Americans, through NASA, other Europeans, through ESA, and China, Russia, India and Japan are all making serious space commitments. New entrants like South Korea underscore the fact that the future of space exploration will be driven by international efforts.

The reality is that the lack of any meaningful funding commitment sends a powerful signal to potential international partners that the UK is not a reliable colleague.

British space scientists and engineers have proven themselves. The UK-led Beagle mission to Mars may have failed, but many Mars missions end badly.

Beagle was Charles Darwin's ship. The namesake for one of NASA's Space Shuttles, Endeavour, was the ship Capt James Cook sailed to Australia. It would be a shame if that was the end of Britain in space.

Source: Flight International