But debate rages amongst scientists. Is there a future in manned space flight? Visitors to the Royal Society’s New Frontiers in Science Exhibition believe so with well over half of those polled backing putting a human in space. The results are indicative of the levels of support nation-wide for manned space travel but arguments about its costs and necessity are bound to continue. Researchers from University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), polled students, teachers, prominent scientists, and politicians on whether the UK needed to send humans to explore the solar system. The researchers proposed several advantages and disadvantages of space exploration. While 57% were enthused by the idea of sending manned missions to space, 37% were against the idea and six wanted robots to be sent first and then humans.

The exhibition, organised by UCL scientists, looks at solar exploration in the last and present millennium. The exhibition includes models of MSSL’s electron spectrometer housed on Cassini-Huygens, the stereo camera system for the Beagle 2 Mars Lander and the four Cluster spacecrafts due to launch in July and August 2000.

Dr Andrew Coates of MSSL, a co-ordinator of the exhibition and an advocate of robots in space, said, ‘The result shows a clear wish to explore in person, which I had expected because of the excitement factor. But at this millennial cross-roads, interplanetary space exploration is pragmatically limited by high launch costs. There is no doubt that the most exciting, and best value, solar system science is currently done by robot explorers. But the future might be different – if the problems of cost and safety can be resolved.’

But Dr Kevin Fong of UCL, organiser of a recent conference on Space Biomedicine and part of the ground crew in the recent John Glenn mission to space took the contrary view, I am delighted by the results of the poll. For too long science policy makers, have been asking: ëWhy should we do this?’ We hold an invitation from the international space community to participate in this most fantastic of exploration and we are in real danger of being left behind. At the start of this new millennium, in a new era of space flight, it is time to ask a new question: ëWhy aren’t we doing this?’

Patrick Edwards, Head of Media Relations, 020 7679 1621

Dr Andrew Coates, Space and Climate Physics, 01483 204145