Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 18:38 UK

Honour given to 'UK astronauts'

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

BIS astronaut pin (BIS)
Ten silver pins have been made in the hope that more Brits will go into orbit

UK-born individuals who have flown in space are being honoured with a commemorative pin.

The British Interplanetary Society is making the award to recognise the astronauts' achievements but also to further the case for human spaceflight.

It is extremely hard for UK citizens to get into orbit because the government does not fund manned space activity.

The first recipients of the pin - Helen Sharman and Richard Garriott - had private funds backing their missions.

Another three - Michael Foale, Nicholas Patrick and Piers Sellers - all became US citizens to fly with the American space agency (Nasa).

Mr Garriott and Dr Sharman were given their pins in a ceremony at the BIS headquarters in London.

"The government has to understand that the costs of human spaceflight are far outweighed by the benefits - the benefits of inspiration and of exploration," said Nick Spall, a BIS fellow and co-ordinator of the UK Human Spaceflight Campaign.

"We're also missing out industrially. Europe has been making a lot of gear for the space station; the Italians particularly. We believe there are lots of jobs out there.

"The rest of the world gets it - China and India know it; and our government should understand it, too."

Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station in 1991 as part of a venture known as Project Juno, which was organised with the help of a number of British companies.

UK astronaut Helen Sharman still dreams of being in space

She spent almost eight days in orbit, conducting experiments. The Sheffield-born chemist returned to Earth to become an advocate for space, and for science and technology in general.

"Britons don't want to wither away while other nations are fed by the long-term economic benefits, shorter-term technical and scientific expertise; and that immediate pride of being involved in human spaceflight," Dr Sharman said.

Richard Garriott, who made a fortune developing online gaming, bought a "ticket" from the Russian space agency to travel to the International Space Station last year.

He is the son of US astronaut Owen Garriott, and although he has spent much of his life in America, he was actually born in Cambridge and carries a British passport.

He said his trip to the ISS had had a profound effect on him.

"Seeing the Earth from space, especially over a period of days from orbit, is a life-changing experience, far beyond what I expected would be true before my launch," he explained as he accepted his pin.

Richard Garriott: 'I thought everyone went to space'

"I firmly believe that if a significant percentage of the population could do what I did, it would completely change the culture of humanity."

Drs Foale, Patrick and Sellers will receive their pins at a later date.

Foale's achievements mean he is one of the most celebrated astronauts in history. His cumulative time in space - on the International and Mir stations; and the space shuttle - extends to more than 370 days.

Patrick and Sellers will help bring an end to the shuttle era. Both have been picked to be among the finals crews of the US orbiter which is set to retire from service next year.

The BIS has had 10 of the silver pins made. The expectation is that "Major Tim" Peake will also get one some day.

The Chichester-born helicopter test pilot was recently appointed to the European Space Agency's astronaut corps. Major Tim will undergo several years of training before being given a mission assignment.

His selection was viewed with some surprise because traditionally Esa has only employed astronaut candidates from member states that fund its human spaceflight programme.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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