Debates between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Boycott

There have been 1 exchanges between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Boycott

1 Mon 15th July 2019 Space Science and Technology
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
2 interactions (852 words)

Space Science and Technology

Debate between Lord Ravensdale and Baroness Boycott
Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for tabling the debate. As noble Lords know, we circled the moon before we landed on it, and on Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to leave the earth’s orbit. As the astronauts completed their circle of the moon, they saw in front of them an astounding sight: the exquisite blue sphere hanging in the blackness of space. They photographed it and the result was the image known as “Earthrise”. It is without a doubt one of the most profound events in the history of human culture and, without a doubt, an amazing photograph. For the first time we saw ourselves from a distance. Our earth, our home, in its surrounding dark emptiness, seemed not only infinitely beautiful but infinitely fragile and precious.

The photograph graced the cover of James Lovelock’s groundbreaking work Gaia. Lovelock showed us for the first time that everything on earth is connected, and that it is regulated for its own good and thus for our good as well. Rainforests, oceans and the soil beneath our feet ensure that that we have air to breathe, food to eat and natural resources from which to thrive. Initially, Lovelock’s view was pilloried and thought a hippy interpretation of the photograph, but now it is accepted science. “Earthrise” spurred many people to think differently. In 1970, the United States set up the Environment Protection Agency and in 1971 both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were founded. Our own Department of the Environment followed in 1972.

Later in his life, William Anders, the astronaut who took the photograph, said:

“This is the only home we have and yet we're busy shooting at each other, threatening nuclear war and wearing suicide vests”.

It took our leaving the planet to fully understand how awesome and vulnerable it is. Sadly, we are still not learning the lesson. Some 50 years ago, the brilliance of humanity rose to the challenge laid down by President Kennedy when he said that man will go to the moon. We succeeded, triumphantly, so 50 years on, let us put that combined brilliance to work again to save the very precious world that we are all lucky enough to inhabit.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for tabling this debate. Project Apollo was and remains a great technical achievement of humankind. It has inspired millions around the world and it is an honour to have the opportunity to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings today.

Everything about Apollo astounds. When President Kennedy set the goal of a manned moon landing in 1961, only a single American had flown in space on a suborbital flight, yet the President had the ambition—almost the audacity—to commit the nation to a moon landing before the end of the decade. The resulting machine, the Saturn V moon rocket, was the most powerful machine ever built.

I am a nuclear engineer. Designing nuclear reactors is not quite rocket science, although it gets close at times and makes me appreciate the engineering genius behind Apollo all the more. I remember how inspirational Apollo was to me as a child. Sadly, I cannot claim to recall where I was at the time of the moon landings, but I pored over the details of the mission. It played a key part in my decision to pursue a career in engineering. It is that ability to be inspired and excited by the future that gets children interested in science and engineering, as the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, pointed out. That is one of the great legacy benefits of the programme.

The dreams that many had in the 1960s about the future of space flight never quite transpired, yet we are at a critical juncture in the history of space flight, driven in the main by the development of reusable rockets by private industry in America. I believe they will transform the economics of space flight and will lead to many opportunities and growth in the sector. On the 50th anniversary of Apollo, it seems wholly appropriate that space is becoming really exciting again.

The UK has an excellent, thriving industry in the production of satellites, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to. It would be really inspirational to get the capability to launch those satellites back in the UK. I note the really positive developments with spaceports in Cornwall and Scotland. Several private companies in the UK are looking at developing launch technology—for example, small launch vehicles and engines for reusable launch vehicles—and the Government should look closely at the funding of those efforts. Contracts to kick-start private investment in those areas could pay dividends, mirroring the approach used so successfully in America. There is an opportunity to capture that before it is lost to others.

I finish with something about the spirit of Apollo. It was a great endeavour, with the whole nation united to achieve a single goal. Maybe that same spirit is what we need to resolve the climate challenges of today.