February 14, 2008

My clumsy title is meant to be a merger of Moon and Steamroller. Maybe I should have called it JuggerMoon. Anhyoo.. through the mists of sleep the Today Programme is telling me that NASA is backing the “inspirational” MoonLITE project, and the Science Minister is reviewing whether to have a manned space programme. The BBC website has the story here . Radio Four also mentioned that Martin Rees has commented negatively on this, for the obvious “STFC is bust” reasons.

At the end of last week there were stories about ISS and ExoMars asking for twice as much money, and in fact there has been a steady stream of “we must get into space more” stories for months – e.g. this one Much of the argument is that there is clear economic impact – space industry is worth £7bn apparently, and ESA, unlike ESO, has juste retour. And in case you hadn’t noticed, STFC have been steadily negotiating the creation of a new ESA centre at RAL, that will actually return some subscription value. (There are big redundancies at RAL, as well as Daresbury and ATC; but if you include outside-the-fence stuff like this and Diamond, I assume the RAL-Harwell site is actually growing…)

This is big league stuff, and absolutely the kind of thing STFC was created to do. A bit of vision and gung ho-ness and economic impact is exactly what you need to leverage extra money from Government. So in a fundamental sense I have no problem with all this – STFC is doing its job. Of course as I said in a recent post, the worry is whether its as-well-as or instead-of.

Sooo … I would not recommend arguing that space exploration is a bad thing. Its a good thing. On the other hand cutting hundreds of high-tech jobs and decimating University Physics departments, now thats a bad thing.