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UK and US agree plan for joint space missions

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The UK and the US have signed a memorandum of understanding that paves the way for closer collaboration on missions to explore our solar system, including robotic exploration of the moon and trials of technology that could one day be sent to Mars.

The deal was reached in Washington last Friday, after a series of meetings between officials.

It will give NASA wider access to the UK's expertise in robotic and small satellite technologies, and could mean UK participation in manned lunar missions.

Science and innovation minister Malcolm Wicks said: "During my recent meeting with Nasa's administrator Dr Michael Griffin, I was keen for the USA and UK to co-operate on exactly this sort of exciting endeavour."

Griffin recently suggested that the "level of participation would go so far as to include astronauts".

Up until now, the government has argued that robotic exploration is more financially efficient, and more useful for furthering scientific understanding of the universe, than manned exploration could ever be.

If this is a step towards sending UK astronauts to the moon, it is a major departure from traditional British space policy, and suggests that the new minister for science is keen to make his mark on the next great space race.

The next few years will see a flurry of missions to the moon. As well as visits from NASA, and UK designed craft, the moon can expect to be visited by at least robotic representatives from India, China and Japan. ®

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