A small but highly significant step for Britain in space

Posted by ap507 at Dec 21, 2015 09:59 AM |
Space physics pioneer lauds UK effort - but sounds a word of caution

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 December 2015

A local pioneer of Space Research has hailed the significance of Tim Peake becoming the first British astronaut in orbit, but warned there is so far no funding beyond his present mission on the International Space Station.

Professor Ken Pounds, Emeritus Professor of Space Physics, said in a letter to The Times: “As we enjoy the rare pleasure of watching a Briton in space – a first step perhaps to the UK joining an international programme for human exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond – it is important to note that the present UK commitment does not extend beyond Tim Peake’s current mission.”

Ken Pounds has played a key role in establishing the international status of the University’s Space Programme Group since coming to Leicester as a junior lecturer in 1960, collaborating in many space missions with NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

He was elected President of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) in 1991-92 and seconded as the first Chief Executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council in 1994-98.

After returning to the University he resumed an active interest in the physics of Active Galaxies, playing a leading role in establishing the existence powerful ionised winds launched from supermassive black hole at the centre of many external galaxies.

Professor Pounds said that the end of the Cold War space race had allowed the focus to turn to the wider benefits of human exploration of the solar system, and a review by an RAS Commission a decade ago had affirmed the scientific case for UK involvement. Hosting UK Space School at the University since 1999 and being a Trustee of the National Space Centre had furthermore convinced him, as a member of the Commission, of the potential of a British Astronaut to inspire a new generation in science and engineering.

While cautioning that “the present UK commitment does not extend beyond Tim Peake’s current mission” Professor Pounds ends his letter on an optimistic note: “having taken that first small – but highly visible - step for the UK, there is now a better chance we will not be left behind as humans set out on the grand adventure to explore our solar system.”

Ends

To arrange an interview with Professor Ken Pounds, please email kap@le.ac.uk

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