Space Science and Technology - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:08 pm on 15th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat 8:08 pm, 15th July 2019

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.