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Set99 Monday, 15 March, 1999, 19:37 GMT
UK astronaut essential, says Foale
Michael Foale
Michael Foale: UK should be more involved
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Astronaut Michael Foale has told the BBC that it is about time the UK Government paid for an astronaut to go to the International Space Station (ISS).

He says there would be many benefits, such as increased industrial co-operation with the Russians and the other nations involved in the project.

Doing business with the Russians is something he knows all about. In 1997, he spent 145 days with two cosmonauts onboard the troublesome Mir space station.

The mission turned Michael Foale into something of a legend in space. During his stay on Mir, he endured what is probably the worst accident to occur in orbit.

Mir was punctured when an unmanned Progress tanker collided with the space station and, for a while at least, the crew's lives were put in serious danger.

He is the only Briton to have flown on the space shuttle. He holds a dual British-American nationality because his mother is American.

Science week

Michael Foale is currently preparing to fly on another mission to service the Hubble Space telescope. He is also in charge of astronaut selection and training. He explained his views on future space developments in a BBC interview for Set99 - the UK's National Science Week.

The ISS will soon have its first crew
He says a UK government-backed astronaut would become an ambassador for spaceflight and an inspiration to the young.

At the moment, the British government is considering paying Nasa to train an astronaut for them. This is annoying members of the European Space Agency (Esa)of which Britain is a member.

Esa says Britain has agreed that all future astronauts will be put forward via them and that no nation may go it alone. However, there is no Briton among Esa's astronaut corps.

Foale says astronauts excite the young: "You are feeding your children with a dream. In achieving that dream, what will happen to them is what happened to me.

"That dream is a practical realisation of their talents. Most will not become astronauts, but all will be inspired. They will become scientists and engineers and contribute to the nation's economy."

Space not war

The Nasa astronaut says the International Space Station has shown how nations can work together.

"What's become important in the past few years is international co-operation in space.

Foale is booked on a service mission to Hubble
"Of all the things we can do together, space exploration is the least harmful - at least we're not making bombs."

He says Britain should realise the spin-offs that would come from getting more involved in the space programme. "It's like a magnet for industry," he says.

Looking to the future of spaceflight, Michael Foale believes Mars is the "end-game".

"We want to find a way to live there in fairly large numbers, where we could have domes, where children could be born and people could live their lives."

Back to the Moon

He points out that it will involve going to the Moon again. "That is the testbed. The Moon is only three days away - Mars is almost three years. So when you go to Mars, you have to be sure of the technology and that technology will be tested on the moon.

"In fact, you will not go to Mars until the rocket fuel to bring you back has already been made by the previous robot lander."

Foale's inclusion in the Hubble servicing mission to fly in October was announced last week. He will be required to do some of the spacewalks that will replace faulty equipment on the telescope.

After that, he will no doubt want to spend some time onboard the International Space Station - the first crews to which will probably blast off in October.

"We have to break the boundaries of Earth either now or in the next 100 years. It is a fragile place - meteorites do come by and some are very close. One day, another one will hit. We have to put humanity out and beyond Earth's limits so that we can continue."

Foale: Britain should pay its way
Michael Foale: We want to colonise Mars
Foale: Mars is the end-game
See also:

11 Apr 98 | Science/Nature
08 Dec 98 | ISS
15 Mar 99 | Science/Nature
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