British Astronaut Launches to ISS, Great Britain Launches a Space Policy

Tim Peake Being Welcomed Aboard ISS Credit: NASA

Tim Peake Being Welcomed Aboard ISS
Credit: NASA

At 6:03 AM EST this morning, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying the TMA-19 crew to the International Space Station. The crew, as is often the case, was a microcosm of the ISS partnership itself, consisting of astronauts from the U.S. and European Union, as well as the one constant, a cosmonaut from Russia. What stands out about today’s mission, particularly from a historical perspective, is the fact the EU is being represented by British astronaut Time Peake. He is by no means the first son of the British Isles to travel into space. That honor was earned in fact by a daughter, Helen Sharman, who also flew aboard a Russian rocket 14 years ago. Sharman’s trip was to a different space station Mir, and conducted under difference circumstances, as a tourist sponsored by a consortium of British companies.

Since then, four other British born citizens have escaped Earth for a bit, three as naturalized American astronauts, and one, Mark Shuttleworth as a South American private spaceflight participant who happened to also hold a British passport. Peake however, is the first to fly as an astronaut representing the British government. (Excluding of course, James Bond.) Contrasted against the canvas of English history, and the special, even unique role, which Britain played in exploration and discovery for more than 300 during the age of sail, it is no small curiosity than its first “official” human foray into orbit comes more than 50 years into the space age.

Or is it?

There are of course a myriad of reasons which contributed to Britain’s decision to withdraw from its initial efforts at creating a domestic launch capability and integrated space exploration program with the Black Knight rocket and a single satellite launch. War weariness, austerity, the disentanglement of Empire, the retreat into socialism in the late 1940’s, and the mounting costs of a new cold war all marked a dramatic change for a nation which only a few short decades before stood atop the world stage; at the pinnacle of the industrial revolution and fielding a navy which “ruled the waves.” That the nation which produced the world’s first commercial jetliner backed away so decisively from what American President John F. Kennedy termed “this new ocean” even as long time rival turned inseparable ally France was assembling the pieces which would form Europe’s Arianespace and become the world’s dominant commercial launch organization makes the disconnect seem stranger still.

That era may be changing in more ways than one. On the same week Tim Peake flew into space, Great Britain released its first ever national space policy. To be sure, the 14 page document is far cry from a call to history and a ringing endorsement of the value of humans , and Britons in particular going boldly. Instead it describes space as “a leveler of society in developed and developing countries.”

Make no mistake however, having decided to sit out the “flags and footprints” part of the space age, Great Britain seems to recognize some of the very same factors which are driving the American NewSpace industry, and even makes an appeal of sorts:

“Government aims to make the UK the most attractive place for space businesses of all sizes to set up and thrive. For example, the UK’s approach to Corporation Tax, currently the lowest in the G7, offers a significant incentive for companies to invest here rather than in one of our industrialized competitors.”

Befitting such a day, it is with great pleasure that Innerspace can add a new category to join others of national nature such as Russian, Chinese and Indian Space. Welcome British Space, it is about time.

Displaced at Last Credit: MGM/United Artists

Displaced at Last
Credit: MGM/United Artists

Posted in: British Space

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