The U.K. is aiming to broker a deal between the U.S. and China to support a multinational manned mission to Mars, according to Science Minister David Willetts.
“One of the advantages of the challenge of getting a manned mission to Mars is that it such a big project that it probably requires global cooperation,” Willetts told reporters traveling back from Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to China on Dec. 4, in comments that were embargoed until today. “We’re in a very good position. We’ve got a very nimble and effective space industry. We’re trusted partners of America. We’re active players in the European Space Agency and we’re now opening up a new relationship with China.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s Dec. 5 Autumn Statement to Parliament included a commitment to spend 80 million pounds ($130 million) over five years to fund a global collaborative space program, helping British scientists and companies build links with emerging space powers.
Willetts said the U.K.’s decision more than two decades ago to stop launching its own satellites and instead buy slots on others’ rockets had led its scientists to become experts in compact, lightweight space technology. He said British expertise in robotics, centered around Stevenage, north of London, may provide opportunities to sell technology to others’ space missions.
“A lot of the technology for the Mars rover vehicle, which the European Space Agency will launch in a couple of years’ time, was developed in Stevenage,” Willetts said. “In the old days it was Cape Canaveral; in the future it will be Stevenage at the heart of the global space effort.”
China launched a rocket on Dec. 2 carrying an unmanned lunar rover, dubbed Jade Rabbit, moving the country one step closer to becoming the third to land a spacecraft on the moon after the U.S. and the Soviet Union. China conducted its first manned docking mission in June 2012 and is considering a manned moon landing in the future.
On Nov. 5, India launched a rocket bearing a satellite that Indian scientists plan to put into orbit around Mars, a feat only the U.S., Europe and Russia have achieved.
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