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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 November 2007, 16:45 GMT
North should 'aim for the stars'
Atlantis space shuttle above the Earth

Space. The tartan frontier.

Efforts are under way to get Moray and the Highlands and Islands actively involved in space science, technology and tourism.

Already school pupils from the area are regularly attending Careers Scotland Space Schools, which can see them take classes at Nasa camps in the US.

However, Maarten de Vries of Moray-based Spaceport Scotland, reckons the north could be put at the frontline of space tourism by 2013.

Mr de Vries is trying to get people, companies and organisations in Moray interested in Virgin Galactic's potential use of RAF Lossiemouth for launching commercial flights.

If the Virgin Galactic development goes ahead, there is an opportunity for a big development in tourism
Maarten de Vries
Spaceport Scotland

Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn made an informal visit to the air force station earlier this year.

Mr de Vries told the Highlands Science Festival this week that projects to take passengers into space could open up huge opportunities for the Highlands and Islands.

He said: "The aim of the companies working on them is to bring them into operation within the next three or four years, to open up space tourism.

"But they will also provide an opportunity for stimulating the development of UK space research.

"As these spacecraft develop, they will open up opportunities for astronaut training, and also for a range of scientific experiments - from the effects of weightlessness on chemical reactions to radio astronomy.

"And this leads directly to the Highlands - because the north of Scotland is now in the frontline for consideration for the establishment of a spaceport."

Models inside a mock up of Virgin Galactic space craft
A ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight will cost 100,000
The UK Space Exploration Working Group (SEWG) said British participation in manned missions was vital for both UK science and the economy
It has been estimated it would cost 50m-75m to send two British astronauts into space in proposal aimed at 2015

He added: "If the Virgin Galactic development goes ahead, there is an opportunity for a big development in tourism. But there is also an opportunity for a significant development in research."

Mr de Vries said schools could get involved by running experiments carried on the flights.

Space has already captured the imagination of many youngsters in Moray and the Highlands and Islands.

The Careers Scotland Space School has been running for six years and its founder, Alex Blackwood, has won awards for his work in getting schoolchildren interested in science.

In the Highlands and Islands, the numbers of schools participating has grown over the past two-and-a-half years from 18 to 32.

Ten youngsters from the region will attend Nasa-led classes in Houston, US, next year and a further 45 at summer schools in Scottish universities.

The programme has seen pupils get lessons in mathematics from a US Air Force colonel and meet veterans of the Apollo 13 mission.

Nasa experts and British-born astronauts such as Michael Foale and Nicholas Patrick have also visited schools in the Highlands and isles.

Rob Tyson, Careers Scotland Space School's north representative, said in excess of 80% of former pupils had gone on to study engineering or science at university.

He said: "Whether or not they would have gone to university is hard to tell, but it does clarify for them the choices they make."


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