Right of Reply: The science director of the British National Space Centre responds to a leading article

YOUR LEADING article ("The empty legacy of the Moon landings") describes the space programme as "an empty imperial gesture" not so different from the activities of explorers past, and says there is little interest in space travel now.

True, President Kennedy, when starting the Apollo programme, accepted the challenge of the space race. He was inspired to put man on the Moon, but he was also pushed by Cold War competition. As we all know, the first footprints on the Moon are American.

Well, the Cold War is over, the Moon is deserted, and Mir nears its end. But these races have given way to team events. Nasa's technology, Russia's experience and Europe's industry co-operate in global space projects.

Inspirational pull and competitive push spurred the modern reality. But we drew back from unsustainable national primacy, unaffordable lunar colonies and dangerous space tourism.

Just as Columbus dreamt of gold but discovered potatoes, space became practical, with a working system of satellites more valuable than an insubstantial dream. The multinational satellites daily show us the global weather, the sea, and remote areas. They precisely locate each of us, minute by minute, in the air, on water or ashore. Satellites link us, from second to second, through an international Web of messages.

Our robots explore other planets, and our telescopes look out to other stars. But our Earth and our Sun remain in the back of our minds. We are understanding where our Earth has come from, and what has happened to it. We are learning how it works, how it interacts with the Sun, and what may happen to it in the future.

From space, we realised how valuable our Earth is. The Independent's thesis is that the Moon proved to be "just another lump of rock". The antithesis is that Earth is stardust. The synthesis is that the imaginative are using space to develop the Earth and take care of it. The legacy, and the future, are far from empty.

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