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Britain rethinks manned space flight

/ Source: The Associated Press

Britain is rethinking its decision to stay out of the manned space race, the country's science minister said Thursday as the government outlined plans to build an international space research facility.

Science Minister Ian Pearson said it was time to reconsider Britain's 1986 decision not to invest in a manned space flight program, predicting the world is going to witness "a new international wave of new space exploration in the next 10 to 20 years."

"What we want to do is review the situation to make sure the U.K. does not get left behind," he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Pearson added that a review examining Britain's manned spaceflight options would come out either this year or next. In the short term, Britain is likely to remain focused on robotic space exploration, he said.

Pearson was speaking to mark the launch of Britain's civil space strategy, which includes a plan to build a research park in Harwell, a town near Oxford and about 65 miles west of London.

Britain's space industry, which contributes some $13.7 billion to the country's economy annually, is lobbying for a more assertive space program.

The country's previous space endeavors, including the ill-fated attempt to land the Beagle 2 probe on Mars in 2003, have been carried out in conjunction with the European Space Agency or NASA.

Some within the industry complain that the European Space Agency, which gets about two-thirds of Britain's civil space budget, does not have any major facilities in Britain. The agency, headquartered in Paris, has operations and research centers in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

The strategy paper said Britain is also exploring the possibility of cooperating with other "emerging space-faring countries," such as China, India and Brazil.