Space Science and Technology - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:21 pm on 15th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Opposition Whip (Lords) 8:21 pm, 15th July 2019

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.