We might make it beyond Mars—but only if we can build radiation shieldsby Frank Close / December 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
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When Major Tim Peake arrived at the International Space Station, it was the climax to a dream that began for me 11 years ago. In 2004 the Royal Astronomical Society asked me to chair a review of the pros and cons of Human Space Exploration. The United Kingdom had a long and successful tradition in robotic ventures into space, but had held back from exploration by humans.
Small is beautiful, so I kept the committee to just three people. My colleagues were Ken Pounds, former chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, and as such responsible for much civil research in space, and John Dudeney, Deputy Director of the British Antarctic Survey, and veteran of 20 trips to Antarctica. The experiences of scientists who have been isolated for long periods in the Antarctic base could be invaluable in preparing astronauts for extended trips into space.
When we began, we were sceptical about the advantages of humans over robots. Where humans are involved, risks escalate, as do the costs. Yet by the time we completed our report, in 2005, we were strongly supportive that Britain should get involved in human space exploration. This led to UK Space (BNSC as it then was) to ask me to chair a large group of experts to evaluate the question, on their behalf. In 2007 we recommended that a British astronaut at the ISS could be a first step. Little did we dare to hope that we would see this happen.
Why were we enthusiastic, and…