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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Space not in youngsters' orbit
European astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy
Astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy in Cardiff Bay

A top European astronaut has told schoolchildren in Cardiff that they have little chance of following in his footsteps under present UK space policy.

Jean-Francois Clervoy, a veteran of three space flights, showed video footage he had shot while aboard the international space station orbiting the earth to pupils from a primary school in Llanishen.

Plenty of hands shot up when a teacher asked if any of the pupils gathered at the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre would like to be an astronaut.

"You'll have to talk to you government about that," Mr Clervoy told them.

Jean-Francois Clervoy presentation
Mr Clervoy shows school children a video from the space station

Britain is a member state of the European Space Agency (ESA), and takes part in most of its programmes - but not manned space flight.

The agency's Human Space Flight project is optional, and the UK government has consistently declined to take part.

Lord Sainsbury, the UK space minister, outlined the government's position during a debate hosted by the independent think tank, DEMOS, last month.

"There is no doubt that manned space exploration has a special excitement for people, and a particular attraction for young people.

"It does not, however, make a great deal of sense either commercially or in terms of doing world class science."

British-born astronaut Michael Foale, who is due to take command of the international space station later this year, could only journey to space by becoming an American citizen.

Space tug

The astronaut took questions from the children on all aspects of life in space - ranging from whether being weightless was fun to the quality of the food.

He said missions to the space station were "like a camping trip, but you must zip yourself tight into your sleeping bag, otherwise you wake up in another part of the station."

Afterward, Mr Clervoy showed the pupils a model of the ATV, or Automated Transfer Vehicle.

This space-age tugboat was the centre piece of the World of Tugs exhibition held at three adjacent venues in the Bay, which closed with his visit.

Automated Transfer Vehicle
The Automated Transfer Vehicle, a space age tugboat

He is senior advisor astronaut for the project, with responsibility for the Jules Verne, the first of eight of these re-supply vessels.

The ATVs are designed to bring oxygen, fuel and water to the orbiting space station. Once empty, it becomes the station's rubbish bin.

"Waste management is a real problem in space - you can't just throw rubbish out of the window," said the astronaut.

Pressure on the ATV has increased significantly since the loss of the space shuttle Columbia which broke up on re-entry into the earth's atmosphere in February, killing everyone on board.

The completion of the space station has been put on hold since the tragedy.

It has also led to a closer working relationship between the Europeans and the Russians, who now have the only working spacecraft able to reach the space station, the Soyuz.

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11 May 01  |  Science/Nature

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