Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing on 20 July 1969, what plans they have (1) to exploit space science and technology, and (2) to improve and encourage public participation in that field.
My Lords, I thank all the parties in this House for helping me to secure this important debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rees, for all his advice and support.
On 16 July 1969 at 8.32 am EST, the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center set off for the moon. I suspect that many of us in this Chamber are old enough to remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at that moment as the world held its breath, came together and watched in awe these amazing events in black and white footage on our television screens. I can certainly remember where I was and the sense of wonder it sparked in me; I was 15 years old. It was only eight years before this that President Kennedy had set NASA this mission and seven months since NASA made a bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon on the first manned flight, on a massive Saturn V rocket.
On that fine morning in 1969, 7.5 million pounds of thrust propelled them into space and into history. After one and a half orbits of the earth, Apollo 11 headed for the moon. Three days later, the crew is in lunar orbit and, one day later, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module “Eagle” and begin their descent, while Collins orbits in the command module. Collins wrote later that the “Eagle”,
“is the weirdest looking contraption I have ever seen in the sky”.
When the lunar module landed at 4.18pm EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. We all know the rest.
When you dig into the details of this amazing human feat of risk-taking and daring, you discover some interesting facts. It was costing a massive 4% of USA GDP at the peak; it took more than 400,000 people working together as a team to get those two brave men alive there and back from the moon. During the final seconds of descent, “Eagle’s” computer is sounding alarms. It turned out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once—sound familiar? But as Aldrin would later point out:
“unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems”.
Armstrong later confirmed that landing this craft was his biggest concern, saying that,
“the unknowns were rampant … there were just a thousand things to worry about”.
The excellent BBC World Service podcast, “13 Minutes to the Moon”, gives the real human detail of how this was achieved, just how extraordinary and hard the task was, how hard people worked, the sense of dedication, teamwork and commitment, and how it caught the imagination of the entire world. There are apparently all sorts of small but crucial matters that you have to remember as an astronaut if you want to get back alive. Small things quickly become very big matters. For example, of all the things that Buzz Aldrin had to remember, one important detail was to ensure he did not close the door of the “Eagle” when he left the craft to step down on to the moon’s surface. There was apparently no outside door handle on the craft if he shut it—just think about that.
At a time when we are in danger, as a country, of talking ourselves to death, drowning in thousands of words and coming apart as a nation, this 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is a breath of fresh air. It takes place this Saturday 20 July and reminds us of an amazing practical human achievement that required massive collaboration across wide groups of people with many different skills, experiences and values, to achieve a practical outcome that the whole world could celebrate. The focus was not on words but on a practical task: doing something together. This extraordinary human event carried with it important opportunities for our economy and for every nation on earth, particularly for our children and the future of this planet.
Just before Easter, I was approached by the Aldrin Family Foundation in the US and the Hackney artist, Helen Marshall, whom I know. They were working with the Kennedy Space Center and asked whether my colleagues and I would be interested in working with them and the People’s Moon project in the US to help celebrate and share this extraordinary human achievement with this generation in the UK. We jumped at it. I declare my interest. The Peoples Moon is a global project to mark, in a unique and creative way, the 50th anniversary of landing the first humans onto the lunar surface. It is producing giant photo and video mosaics that will appear at multiple locations around the world starting now, this July.
A team of us working together have now secured, this Saturday, the anniversary of the moon landing, giant screens in Times Square, New York, in Piccadilly Circus, London, and in Singapore, which will show, at the exact time 50 years ago, the landing of the lunar module. A giant projection of Neil Armstrong’s first boot print on the moon will be projected on to the floor in Piccadilly Circus, so that people can literally stand in his footstep. These celebrations will coincide with other events across America, the highlight being at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Our own Professor Brian Cox will be taking part in this gala. The permanent home for the People’s Moon exhibit will be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida: future generations will be able to click on individual pictures and learn something about the thousands of individuals that took part and what their aspirational “giant leap” was in 2019.
To make this large moon mosaic, we are asking people, particularly young people, to download the People’s Moon app and send us individual pictures of themselves with a statement of their “giant leap”, describing their aspiration in a few words. The Apollo programme was accomplished by the efforts of more than 400,000 people coming together and achieving an impossible dream. This project is encouraging this generation to come together and inspire the world to believe in them and dream the impossible again. This giant art installation, a picture of the moon made up of 10,000 people’s pictures and their “giant leaps”, will stay as a reminder of our time, 50 years on, of what we have learned from these extraordinary events in the history of humankind and the impact they have had upon our lives and our economy.
Just over a week ago, Professor Brian Cox and I ran our eighth science summer school in a school in what was, just over a decade ago, a failing housing estate and failing school in Tower Hamlets. This year, 60% of our children in this school have gone on to Russell group universities, many to read science and engineering. Our means of turning around what was a failing school was, first, to get good leadership and build a focused team of staff; then to inspire the children and expose them to the lives and journeys of this country’s top scientists and engineers; then to connect this yearly inspirational event to the ongoing science and engineering curriculum in the school; and, finally, to make sure they meet, hear and work with people who are actually running some of this country’s top science and engineering businesses. Join the dots, create an aspirational culture and believe in these children: they have many talents. We know; we have the data to prove it.
Just over a week ago, these children from east London were joined by 60 children from Rotherham and Skelmersdale as Brian and I took the science summer school into the north of England. They heard from Abigail Hutty, who is working on the ExoMars Rover, co-ordinating the design team who are building this vehicle, and from Andrew Smyth, an aerospace engineer at Rolls-Royce and finalist in “The Great British Bake Off”, who shared with us the scientific links between the heat shield on the space shuttle and the make-up of meringues and arctic rolls—amazing. There is much debate about the direct benefits of the massive investment in the Apollo programme. Perhaps, though, that misses the point: the sense of self-belief, the entrepreneurial, can-do attitude that it engendered could be seen as its major successes. The Apollo programme gave a major push to computer technologies; it purchased 70% of the entire production of early integrated circuits and more or less invented software engineering, so perhaps it is no surprise that the USA is pre-eminent in these spheres today.
The “Earthrise” photo from Apollo 8, showing the earth rising beyond the moon, was taken the first time humankind left earth’s orbit. For the first time, we saw how small and precious our planet really is. For the first time, we could see the globe in the context of the cosmos. This was, arguably, the major driver of the nascent environment movement, and in the long term it may be that this was by far the programme’s greatest impact. Pope Francis, in his speech to the Council of Europe in November 2014, challenged us all:
“Where is your vigour? Where is that idealism which inspired and ennobled your history? Where is your spirit of curiosity and enterprise?”
The clues may be in this incredible story of human endeavour, self-belief and risk taking.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for giving me this opportunity to celebrate this momentous anniversary of human achievement. As Buzz Aldrin climbed the steps of the lunar landing module for the last time, Neil Armstrong reminded him of one item in his shoulder pocket that he was meant to leave behind. It was an ultra-microfiche inside an aluminium case inscribed simply “From Planet Earth”. He dropped it from the steps. The microfiche that floated slowly down to the moon’s surface contained goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, including Indira Gandhi, Pope Paul VI, Chiang Kai-shek, President Tito, Haile Selassie and the only surviving signatory, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read these: they were optimistic in tone and had two great themes. The first was a desire for peace; and the other was the hope that this great human scientific advance may hold the key to improving life here on earth.
It is important to remember the context of 1969. We were at the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam War. It was a time of great power tensions, not unlike our own. Notwithstanding this division, the writers of those messages believed that the search of the heavens had the capacity to draw us closer together on earth. The moon and space were not a resource to be exploited but a frontier to be explored. The boundaries to be expanded were of human knowledge and understanding, not of nation states. This sentiment was captured in the lunar plaque for the Apollo 11, which remains on the surface of the moon and states:
“WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND”.
This is also expressed clearly in Article 1 of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by 103 countries, and which the UK played a leading role in securing. Article 1 states that exploration,
“shall be carried out for the benefit and interests of all countries ... and shall be the province of all mankind”.
It may be that this momentous anniversary offers us an opportunity to revisit that treaty and reaffirm our commitment to its precepts. As we celebrate the Apollo 11 mission, we might pause and reflect what we may be in danger of leaving something behind: a belief that, whatever our differences, we are all human first and that we are privileged to share the most extraordinarily beautiful home in the known universe, which it falls to us in this generation to cherish and improve for the benefit of the next.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for securing this debate. When devising our industrial strategy, it makes sense to assess our opportunities and play to our strengths. In relation to both, the UK should be doing more: though only 3% of the world economy, we are 5% to 6% of the world space economy, so we are already doing well, although we need to do a whole lot better if we are to reach the Government’s target of having 10% of the global space market by 2030. Apart from the trade and the very high-value jobs we can create from space exploitation, there are four good reasons why we need to be active in this field. Space programmes allow us to monitor and observe our world: this is vital for environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Communications rely on space programmes, as does navigation. Then there is the vital area of defence. We need to be independent in all these areas.
We are already active in two of the major sectors of space exploitation: building satellites and receiving and interpreting data from them. The area where we are lacking is in independent launch facilities, although this aspect of space exploitation could be worth £3.8 billion to our economy by the end of the decade.
The Sutherland space hub being developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise is supported by £2.5 million from the UK Government as part of its £17.3 million funding, and other grants have been made available to companies developing a new rocket, launch operations and a new satellite. The location of this site makes sense, so that we can launch to the north-east, but it is in Scotland, a part of the UK where the people and the Government do not want to leave the European Union and where the SNP Government have threatened to attempt to break up the union if we Brexit. What happens to the Sutherland site then? I understand that there is another site in Cornwall where there are plans for a launch site, but the investment in Sutherland is already great. What discussions have taken place with the Scottish Government to protect that investment?
Brexit threatens more than that. Half our current satellite manufacturing is exported to the EU. Tariffs would make us less competitive and a no-deal exit would be a disaster for companies such as those in the Glasgow and Surrey clusters, which build a lot of small satellites. One area in which we excel at the moment is removing space debris. There is a parallel here with the plastics that pollute our oceans. In our race for development, we have polluted the oceans with plastics that do not decompose and we have polluted space with bits of technology that are no longer used. A British satellite manufacturer has a clever netting system that can remove them. Surely this technology has enormous potential. Are the Government backing it?
My Lords, the Americans committed 4% of the federal Budget to Apollo. Had that level of spend been sustained, there would have been footprints on Mars by now. But once that race against the Russians was won, there was no imperative to sustain that massive effort, so Apollo remains, half a century later, the high point of manned spaceflight.
However, space activity has burgeoned. We depend routinely on orbiting satellites for communication, satnav, environmental monitoring, surveillance and weather forecasting—and for science. NASA’s budget remains much larger than that of the European Space Agency, but it is mostly spent sustaining America’s pre-eminence in manned flight. On the unmanned front, we should proclaim more loudly that ESA has parity. The successes of Rosetta, Planck, Gaia and Copernicus—all strongly involving the UK—fully match what NASA has achieved. We can be proud of Europe’s publicly funded space effort and should remain key players.
In parallel, the Government should foster commercial projects, supporting launch sites and research and development. They should also promote educational ventures—this is where Leicester and the Open University deserve special mention. We must not forget the influence on young people of such enterprises. Space is second only to dinosaurs in fascinating the young. In coming decades, the entire solar system will be explored by fleets of tiny automated probes, interacting with each other like a flock of birds. Robotic fabricators will construct in space solar energy collectors, telescopes and industrial-scale structures.
Will there be a role for humans? The practical role for them gets ever weaker with each advance in robots, sensors and miniaturisation. It is therefore hard to justify massive funding by taxpayers. Manned spaceflight should be left to privately funded adventurers prepared to participate in a cut-price programme far riskier and far cheaper than western nations could impose on publicly supported civilians. The phrase “space tourism” should be avoided. It lulls people into believing that such ventures are low risk. If that is the perception, the inevitable accidents will be traumatic. These exploits must be sold as dangerous sports or intrepid exploration. By 2100, thrill seekers in the mould of Sir Ranulph Fiennes may have established bases on the moon and Mars. Elon Musk of SpaceX says he wants to die on Mars, but not on impact. We should cheer on these enthusiasts.
We should never expect mass emigration from the earth. Here I disagree with Musk and my late colleague Stephen Hawking. It is a dangerous delusion to think that space offers an escape from the earth’s problems. Coping with climate change is a doddle compared to terraforming Mars. Nowhere in our solar system offers an environment even as clement as the Antarctic. There is no planet B for ordinary, risk-averse people. We must cherish our earthly home.
My Lords, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin recounted:
“What I want to remember most is the glance between Neil and myself, with the engine shutoff, just the second after we touched down, because we had just completed the most critical door opening for space exploration in all of humanity”.
Opening that door had the potential to allow infective agents—“moon fever”, whatever that might be—to enter the capsule and be brought back to earth. Although science fiction had postulated several terrible diseases, one thing was certain: there would be no resistance to any such infection on earth. Therefore, the risk of infection had to be zero. It was not. In 1963, NASA recommended quarantine of any astronaut coming back from lunar landing missions and three weeks’ quarantine was deemed adequate to detect the emergence of possible lunar microbes. They have not been found, but organic material is out there, possibly pointing to our origins.
Dr Bill Carpentier, when aged 33, entered the sealed negative pressure capsule with the returning astronauts to monitor every aspect of their health, physical and mental. Analysis of gait in weightless conditions has now shed light on our neurological systems. Bone density changes explained fracture risks and the sequelae of intense radiation received in the Van Allen belts is still being monitored. Space medicine is now a sought-after training programme and has been established in the UK in part by the efforts of Professor Gradwell and colleagues from King’s.
Research into space flight includes the man-machine interface, human performance, fatigue effects, space cabin safety and habitability, decompression sickness, the fluid shifts in zero gravity that cause hypotension on re-entry, and spatial disorientation. This all informs aircraft accident investigation. Publications from astronauts’ data have looked at their cardio- vascular, pulmonary and nervous systems. However, as Dr Carpentier said:
“You’re not sending a cardiovascular system into space, you’re sending a person”.
That glance between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on landing on the moon encapsulates that human interaction that determines success or disaster. After Neil Armstrong’s death, his family had a simple request to us all:
“Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mawson said, all of us recall with great intensity exactly what we were doing, feeling and thinking when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. As an early computer programmer and systems analyst, I was particularly concerned about the software and whether it would hold up. Had my colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic done everything that they possibly could to test it to extinction? It held. The astronauts landed and they came back. It was a most magnificent triumph. It was of course a triumph for humanity as well. For the first time we came together across national boundaries, religions and languages in a celebration of what it was to be human. To be alive to witness that great event was a privilege that none of us can ever forget.
It was also a sound investment. The money spent on space is actually spent here on earth within our economies. It provides high-tech employment, jobs and growth, spinning off new technologies that benefit all our lives. The Apollo programme brought a more modern world to everyone, everywhere. Indeed, it is one of the shining examples of the truth that investing in science and engineering works. This can be a great role for government as the funds in turn fuel growth in our economy and provide jobs here at home, attracting talent from around the world to our universities, institutions and companies and driving British industry ever further forward. Today, British companies and entrepreneurs are leading a resurgence in space exploration. They are at the forefront of the world of satellite communications and space commerce, successfully driving yet more jobs and investment into our economy.
The crew of Apollo 8 circumnavigated the moon in December 1968—on Christmas Eve—and took the iconic “Earthrise” photograph, an image directly credited with starting the environmental movement at home. This was the first time that the human race collectively saw the beauty of our home planet against the backdrop of the deepest darkness of space. Our earth shines like a jewel in space; it is the jewel of all creation. All who have seen the earth, no matter from which nation, experience the overview effect. Seeing the beauty of our planet quite literally changes them. My great friend Nicole Stott has been in space three times and the experience of seeing the earth from there has changed her dramatically. Indeed, the greatest gift we received from the Apollo programme was not the moon but, rather, the earth.
I was fortunate in that one of my early political assistants in the House of Commons went straight into space. He now runs an immensely successful British-American programme. That is a good example of how that programme affected just one person, along with his wife Nicole Stott, the astronaut. Apollo was by far the best foot forward ever in my lifetime for all humanity.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for tabling the debate. As noble Lords know, we circled the moon before we landed on it, and on Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to leave the earth’s orbit. As the astronauts completed their circle of the moon, they saw in front of them an astounding sight: the exquisite blue sphere hanging in the blackness of space. They photographed it and the result was the image known as “Earthrise”. It is without a doubt one of the most profound events in the history of human culture and, without a doubt, an amazing photograph. For the first time we saw ourselves from a distance. Our earth, our home, in its surrounding dark emptiness, seemed not only infinitely beautiful but infinitely fragile and precious.
The photograph graced the cover of James Lovelock’s groundbreaking work Gaia. Lovelock showed us for the first time that everything on earth is connected, and that it is regulated for its own good and thus for our good as well. Rainforests, oceans and the soil beneath our feet ensure that that we have air to breathe, food to eat and natural resources from which to thrive. Initially, Lovelock’s view was pilloried and thought a hippy interpretation of the photograph, but now it is accepted science. “Earthrise” spurred many people to think differently. In 1970, the United States set up the Environment Protection Agency and in 1971 both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were founded. Our own Department of the Environment followed in 1972.
Later in his life, William Anders, the astronaut who took the photograph, said:
“This is the only home we have and yet we're busy shooting at each other, threatening nuclear war and wearing suicide vests”.
It took our leaving the planet to fully understand how awesome and vulnerable it is. Sadly, we are still not learning the lesson. Some 50 years ago, the brilliance of humanity rose to the challenge laid down by President Kennedy when he said that man will go to the moon. We succeeded, triumphantly, so 50 years on, let us put that combined brilliance to work again to save the very precious world that we are all lucky enough to inhabit.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for tabling this debate. Project Apollo was and remains a great technical achievement of humankind. It has inspired millions around the world and it is an honour to have the opportunity to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings today.
Everything about Apollo astounds. When President Kennedy set the goal of a manned moon landing in 1961, only a single American had flown in space on a suborbital flight, yet the President had the ambition—almost the audacity—to commit the nation to a moon landing before the end of the decade. The resulting machine, the Saturn V moon rocket, was the most powerful machine ever built.
I am a nuclear engineer. Designing nuclear reactors is not quite rocket science, although it gets close at times and makes me appreciate the engineering genius behind Apollo all the more. I remember how inspirational Apollo was to me as a child. Sadly, I cannot claim to recall where I was at the time of the moon landings, but I pored over the details of the mission. It played a key part in my decision to pursue a career in engineering. It is that ability to be inspired and excited by the future that gets children interested in science and engineering, as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, pointed out. That is one of the great legacy benefits of the programme.
The dreams that many had in the 1960s about the future of space flight never quite transpired, yet we are at a critical juncture in the history of space flight, driven in the main by the development of reusable rockets by private industry in America. I believe they will transform the economics of space flight and will lead to many opportunities and growth in the sector. On the 50th anniversary of Apollo, it seems wholly appropriate that space is becoming really exciting again.
The UK has an excellent, thriving industry in the production of satellites, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to. It would be really inspirational to get the capability to launch those satellites back in the UK. I note the really positive developments with spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland. Several private companies in the UK are looking at developing launch technology—for example, small launch vehicles and engines for reusable launch vehicles—and the Government should look closely at the funding of those efforts. Contracts to kick-start private investment in those areas could pay dividends, mirroring the approach used so successfully in America. There is an opportunity to capture that before it is lost to others.
I finish with something about the spirit of Apollo. It was a great endeavour, with the whole nation united to achieve a single goal. Maybe that same spirit is what we need to resolve the climate challenges of today.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and send good wishes for the People’s Moon project. I hope that the media give it the coverage it deserves and that it succeeds.
My locus in speaking in this debate is twofold. I hope it is not thought of as one-upmanship to say that I was in Downing Street on 14 October 1969 when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were received by Harold Wilson as part of the world tour that followed their journey to the moon. I have a son, James, who works in Munich as a space vehicle controller—a title that slightly worries me, but he assures me it is perfectly safe.
The past 50 years have seen an amazing movement forward in unmanned exploration. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, was right to draw attention to the fact that we were probably right: the brief we have had and “8 Days: To the Moon and Back” showed, perhaps more than we knew at the time, just how perilous that journey to the moon was.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, we really are going into a new space age, with lots of encouraging things happening—not least the work by Professor Brian Cox, which has been mentioned, Tim Peake and his adventures and successive Governments in the past 10 years giving legislative and investment support to our space industries.
There are, however, still things that worry me. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, mentioned the future of our participation in the European Space Agency. The Government must really make clear what their intentions and hopes are for our participation in the European Space Agency. I worry that we are moving away from:
“We came in peace for all mankind”.
The Chinese, the Russians, the United States and France all seem to be developing military capacity in space. What is the Government’s view of these dangers? A number of speakers have also talked about the environmental clean-up in space.
I was very interested in the comment from Buzz Aldrin in “8 Days: To the Moon and Back”. On the way back from the moon, he said that space travel would continue because of,
“the insatiable curiosity of all mankind”.
My son James has told me that what has inspired him more than anything else was that “Earthrise” image taken by Apollo 8—our earth suspended in the void. It is a reminder of both our urge to explore new frontiers and our responsibility to our fragile blue planet.
My Lords, within a month of the Apollo mission landing in 1969, another—not quite as remarkable—event occurred: I was born. Although, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, I have no memories of that day or the moon landing, growing up alongside the Apollo 11 lunar landing anniversaries and annual celebrations has had an effect on me. Growing up, I felt an optimism for the future—I still feel it now, although sometimes it is tested—and a belief that we can do better and be bolder.
There is something exciting, mysterious and adventurous about space exploration and lunar landings. The success of that Apollo mission is now 50 years past. On Monday 21 July 1969, the first Oral Question on the Order Paper was from Lord Brockway, a former general secretary of the Independent Labour Party, the ILP. He spoke of the landing as,
“opening an entirely new era in history”.
He warned against the dark side of the potential militarisation of space and further asked the Minister about the potential for,
“laboratories orbiting with scientists from different countries working together”.—[Official Report, 21/7/1969; col. 650.]
The vision of space laboratories consisting of representatives from across the rivalling world may have seemed far-fetched at the time but, as we all know, the international space station has now orbited for over 20 years—a feat that has seen former Cold War foes working together. We should not underestimate the power of space exploration to create dreams or open potential.
The UK is in a fortunate position and can be at the forefront of new future space programmes, but only if we seize that opportunity. Our reputation as the mother of the Industrial Revolution and our leading universities and research centres are known across the world. While the UK’s membership of the European Space Agency is not affected by leaving the EU, Brexit sadly places in doubt our participation in other projects such as Copernicus and a few others.
To finish, I remind the House of the response, back in July 1969, to the Question from Lord Brockway. The then Minister, Lord Chalfont. agreed with Lord Brockway’s sentiments and added that such ventures into space should be,
“a co-operative rather than a competitive enterprise”.—[Official Report, 21/7/1969; col. 650.]
I ask the Minister to take heed of that message in future UK policy, both in space and beyond.
My Lords, like virtually all other noble Lords —I exclude the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Ravensdale—I too can remember the grainy pictures on television 50 years ago of the landing on the moon in 1969. I am probably exactly the same age as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson—but it is not unusual in this House for our minds to go back that far.
I begin by joining the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for giving this boost to the People’s Moon project. Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I hope that it gets reasonable coverage because, although we in government recognise the important role that space can play in our economy, security and environment, also important is its unique potential to inspire the next generation. I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said about that—the need to get into schools and the work that he is doing on that front. If the Government can help in one department or another, my door is open; he can come to me and we will see just what is possible.
So soon after the debates on net zero, it was also useful for the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and my noble friend Lady Nicholson—and I think the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as well—to mention the impact of those photographs of Apollo 8 six months earlier, and just how suddenly and completely they changed our view of the world we live in. Again, I remember those photographs as they appeared in the newspapers at the time.
It is right that we mark the 50th anniversary. It was a truly historic moment in human history, and we should also use this moment—I believe this debate will help do so—to celebrate the United Kingdom’s growing space sector while looking into the future. I hope to say a little about that.
In the 1960s, the space race was fought between two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Since then, there has been a remarkable growth in the number of spacefaring nations—I forget how many mentions I have seen in the press over the past two days of missions from India, China, Israel and so on—and an unprecedented level of international co-operation on projects such as the European Space Agency. I can give a commitment that we will continue to be a member of that because, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said, it has nothing to do with our withdrawal from the European Union.
When many of us think about space exploration, we see those early pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking those first steps on the moon—but it is also important to remember President Kennedy and his remarkable speech some seven years earlier in 1962 in Houston, when he set America on its path to the moon. He said:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.
I believe that the resulting Apollo programme was indicative of what a Government can do and how quickly they can do it. It also shows what citizens can achieve when they put their mind to it. However, as other noble Lords reminded us, it should also be remembered that it is not only hard but very expensive. Both the noble Lords, Lord Mawson and Lord Rees, reminded us that, at the height of Apollo, 4% of federal government spending went into the NASA budget. As a result, in seven years they achieved what they did. One might pause and think just how long it is taking us to sort out this Palace—but that is possibly not the proper thing to say at this stage.
While we recognise the achievements of the past, we should also look to the future, where the United Kingdom aims to play a leading part. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, kindly said that we were doing well—but, as always, she then said that we could do better. The space sector is a success story. It generates an income of £14.8 billion, employs 42,000 people across the country and supports a further £300 billion of economic activity through the use of satellite services. But she was right to draw attention to the need to do more. I can confirm that we are involved in programmes dealing with debris removal and that we are committed to the Sutherland spaceport in Scotland and will continue to be so whatever happens. Scotland is the best place in the UK for vertical rocket launch. We are in regular discussions with the Scottish Government about development of spaceports.
The UK is also a world leader in space science—in designing, developing and operating spacecraft in the most challenging environments imaginable and returning data and observations. We are working closely with industry and, I want to emphasise, our world-class university sector, which both help to grow the UK space sector further as part of our modern industrial strategy, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
I have mentioned this to the House before, but I will mention again that I saw for myself the results of some of that work when I visited a company designing, building and exploiting the data from microsatellites in Glasgow. The noble Baroness talked about the strength of Glasgow in that field. Why does a company that comes from the west coast of America want to build satellites in Glasgow? The simple fact is that the expertise and the universities are there and it is a jolly good place to work. We should be proud of that.
The UK Space Agency also delivers a space science and space exploration programme through the European Space Agency and in partnership with other agencies around the world, funding cutting-edge technologies and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
I was grateful for the reminder from the real expert in this debate; the noble Lord, Lord Rees. There is a range of different experts in this debate, but I think that the noble Lord is the one with the most pertinent expertise. He reminded us of our expertise and that of the European Space Agency in unmanned flight. There is a real opportunity for the UK space sector to strengthen its international relationships and enhance bilateral opportunities while continuing to collaborate with our close partners across Europe. My honourable friend the Science Minister will be speaking more about this tomorrow at the Policy Exchange, including about our plans to increase collaboration with NASA as we approach the moon landing anniversary.
I will mention public engagement and the Apollo 11 anniversary, because the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, asked how we would celebrate that anniversary. We have conducted a crowd-sourced history campaign, capturing the memories of those who are old enough to remember 1969—unlike the noble Lord, Lord McNicol —when humans first walked on the moon. The UK Space Agency and the Arts and Humanities Research Council will publish a collection of those memories later this week, which will include newly unearthed photographs and stories that highlight the lasting legacy of Apollo. The Government have also supported a series of outreach activities to engage the next generation in space.
My honourable friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation recently attended the launch of the Science Museum’s Summer of Space activities, which included two new exhibits: the Apollo 10 command module which orbited the moon on the final test mission before the Apollo 11 landing and Tim Peake’s Soyuz spacecraft which safely returned Tim and other astronauts to earth in 2016 following their stay in the International Space Station. I believe that making use of those opportunities is a good way of marking the historic anniversary and I can think of no better way for Members of this House to mark it than by visiting the museum and seeing those historic artefacts which are a physical reminder of the extraordinary feats of space exploration and, as is clear from noble Lords’ memories of just how crude the equipment was, the bravery of those astronauts and the ingenuity of the scientists and engineers who supported them on their missions.
I conclude by stating that the Government recognise the historic and scientific significance of the Apollo 11 landing and the potential that space has to improve our life on earth. We are seeing rapid growth in the UK space industry and will continue to support it through the industrial strategy, which includes a programme to establish small satellite launch capability from UK soil as well as investments in new space infrastructure such as the National Satellite Test Facility at Harwell. Last week the Government also announced a £40 million investment in Space Park Leicester through the UK research partnership investment fund, leveraging further private investment. Again, I note what the noble Lord, Lord Rees, said about the need for private investment in this field, and further public investment by the likes of Lockheed, Amazon and others.
As I said, we will also continue to be a member of the European Space Agency once we leave the European Union and we will work with other partners as part of humanity’s efforts to explore the final frontier while engaging the public in our efforts to help the UK lead the new space age.