UK student ambitions get thrust from space module

November 20, 2008

The University of Leicester began teaching the first UK university course on human space flight this week.

Although government policy means that there is currently no likelihood of Britain sending an astronaut into space, the university is introducing an optional module for undergraduates in its department of physics and astronomy, entitled "Human Space Flight".

It will be taught and marked by former Nasa astronaut Jeff Hoffman, who has undertaken five space missions. He joins Leicester as an honorary visiting professor for three years.

The course begins as the UK prepares for a high-level meeting of European science ministers, at which human space exploration will be discussed.

Martin Barstow, the head of department, said he had decided to offer the course because he wanted to give students a chance of participating in human space flight programmes taking place outside Britain.

"We have spent a lot of time trying to change the UK Government's mind (about participating in human space exploration) and made rather slow progress," said Professor Barstow. "(But) whatever the Government decides, human space exploration is happening ... I want people who come through our degree programmes to have a chance of participating in that."

Since February, ministers have been reviewing options for possible UK involvement in human space flight, but a report is not expected until next year.

A European Space Agency meeting scheduled to take place this week will be attended by Paul Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, and a personal advocate of human space flight.

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