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PPARC has appointed a board of space experts to oversee the UK's participation in the European Space Agency's Aurora programme.

The Aurora Advisory Committee (AurAC) will be headed by Dr. Mark Sims from the University of Leicester, last seen as project manager on the Beagle 2 mission. He will be joined by the Open University's Professor Colin Pillinger, and Dr Sarah Dunkin, vice president of the Royal Astronomical Society, among others.

Last October PPARC (the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council) announced that the UK was joining the pan-European effort to explore the solar system. The goal is to bring back rock samples from Mars, and possibly even send a manned mission to the red planet by 2033.

The UK has committed £5m to the planning stages . Ongoing involvement will mean a commitment of another £10m to £25m per year over ten years, over and above the ESA subscription of £40m. Professor Ian Halliday, PPARC's chief exec, is determined that the UK will get the best return on its investment, particularly in terms of high profile and interesting science projects.

"We have the scientific and industrial expertise in the UK to be major players in Aurora and we have made a substantial investment," he said. "That investment needs to be reflected in the final programme and its constituent work packages."

PPARC has always stressed that exploring the solar system will need a multi-disciplinary approach. Accordingly, representatives from the Natural Environment Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will also sit on the panel. ®

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