Letter: No laughing matter

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Sir: If senior space administrators in Britain are 'gleeful' and 'crowing' about recent setbacks in the US space programme ('Space shuttle failures bolster British policy', 8 April), they should be sacked forthwith. For all its faults, the shuttle with its crew is the most versatile space vehicle around. It is a praiseworthy enterprise, and, with the Russians' long-duration missions, a necessary step on the road towards permanent orbital facilities, colonisation of the Moon and Mars, and mining of the asteroids.

To concentrate almost exclusively on unmanned satellites in Earth orbit, which is the acknowledged UK policy, is short-sighted. It is as if, 500 years ago, we had decided only to improve our fleet of beach-launched fishing luggers, while other nations put their resources into designing vessels to cross the Atlantic. I dare say we could have made a nice profit at first, by selling our improved fisheries technology to the French, Spanish and Dutch, but we would have lost out in the end.

Manned spaceflight is not just a matter of 'flag waving', nor is deep-space exploration. Britain should stop its spoiling tactics within the European Space Agency, and join with our colleagues, along with the Americans and Russians, in the exploration and commercial development of space on all fronts.

Yours faithfully,


The Open University

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire