British space agency hopes first woman on lunar mission will make her a key player | Science

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When the first female astronaut walks on the moon, more than half a century after Neil Armstrong took that historic first step, it will likely be heralded as a small step for a woman, but a giant leap for humanity.But in the halls of the British Space Agency, it will also be marked as the moment when Britain claimed its claim to become a key player in the next frontier of space exploration – the mission to Mars.

On Tuesday, the UK, NASA and other partners signed a landmark agreement that will govern the conduct of all countries on a joint NASA-led mission to the moon, which scientists hope will serve springboard for further exploration.

Project Artemis aims to bring humans – including the first woman – back to the moon by 2024 and establish a lunar space station as an experimental hub for future space missions. Its goals are more ambitious, far-reaching and multilateral than that groundbreaking first voyage, Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the British Space Agency told The Guardian.

“Where Apollo was all about that first mission to bring humans to the moon, it’s a plan for a sustained series of missions with the ambition to test technologies so that we can then go to Mars,” he said. she said, adding, “And that… it’s like Star Trek isn’t it.”

The Artemis deal underscored the UK’s commitment “to strengthen the UK’s role in the global space sector, building on our existing strengths in satellites, robotics and communications,” said the Minister of Science, Amanda Solloway.

British companies are set to produce a vital kit for the proper functioning of the planned lunar gateway, which will orbit the moon and serve as a staging post for astronauts with a laboratory, bedrooms and a space garage for them. rovers and other robots.

Thales Alenia Space in the UK is expected to contribute to the Lunar Gateway refueling system known as Esprit (European System Providing Refueling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications), a contract worth around 18 million euros . Other companies across the UK will also be involved in the construction of the Lunar Gateway Service Module and Living Module, according to the UK Space Agency.

Participation in the refueling could be a commercially savvy decision for the UK, Horne added. “One of the potential future endeavors in space is to maintain the satellites in orbit rather than continuing to replace them, and that is why we are interested in refueling,” she said, adding that this would be a step to help prevent potentially catastrophic collisions between space. debris, known to endanger the satellites humans rely on.

“As a country that does the right thing, that takes care of things, we want to be involved,” she said. “But he also looks after our own interests.”

A key objective for Esprit will be to explore the moon for the presence of frozen water, which robotic probes suggest to exist. Finding it would be the key to building future lunar colonies, experts say. When asked if the mission was the first step in determining if humans could live outside of Earth, she replied, “Simply put, yes.”

But besides providing the development of new technology and exploring the potential of space colonies, the UK’s involvement in a mission that put the first woman on the moon would serve as inspiration for a new generation of scientists here. on Earth, Horne said.

“I was six when I saw the initial landing and it was so exciting,” Horne said. “We have put a lot of effort into encouraging young people, especially girls, to take science and technology subjects, and this will boost those efforts.”

Children could learn about the exploits of Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station in May 1991, and Sir Tim Peake, the first Briton to live on the International Space Station – but the next generation could take a step further, she added, “They could be part of this first cohort that goes to Mars.”

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