Space Science and Technology - Question for Short Debate

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

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Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench 8:15 pm, 15th July 2019

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.