It’s a (criminally) little know fact that at one point after WW2 Britain had a space programme not only did we succeed in putting one satellite in orbit but we also managed to build a series of launch vehicles. Some now sit in various museums alongside the V weapons and in London, Apollo 10’s Command module. To date we’re the only country to create a home grown rocket and launch a satellite then give up. Prospero (after the sorcerer who gives up his powers in ‘The Tempest’) was launched after the cancellation of the programme. A victim of the post war economy and a decision to abandon it in favour of US built rockets.
Britains space programme languished in a sort of purgatory from the cancellation of the original programme until the mid 1980’s when the government started the HOTOL project, however like every other attempt that too was marked top secret and shut down. Since then if you wanted to be an astronaut you have to go to the US, which is what Piers Sellers and Michael Foale did or be funded privately like Helen Sharman.
So that sad tortured history of false starts brings us to now, the days of the MoD, DTI and BNSC are long gone, the UK Space Agency now calls the shots and thanks to pretty healthy financial circumstances (the UK space industry was one of the few sectors to grow during the recession) we now have a proper astronaut slated to launch next year in November, the UK government is actively supporting Skylon which is the successor to HOTOL and is making good progress, and an announcement this summer about the construction of a spaceport in the UK is all promising that this time UK Space is on the right trajectory.
So this brings me to today, on November 19 a consortium known as Lunar one announced a crowdfunding appeal for £500 million, this would be used to fund and land a probe on the Lunar South pole. Today the overview of the scientific mission was announced. The Lander will drill 100m into the surface and return information about the moons composition and whether it would be feasible not only for a lunar base but also as a place to site telescopes away from interference from the Earth. Not only this but people can pay to send pictures, text messages and hair samples on the lander as a way of “immortality” now theres £460,922 pledged of £600,000 goal with
9 days to go. So as you can see, so very near the goal, of having something British on the moon, and not just a few bits of metal on Mars and a sad legacy of what could have been. So in the words of Prospero:
“But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,”