The United Kingdom is a nation of explorers.
Captain James Cook, David Livingstone and Captain Robert Scott sailed and trekked the world to discover new frontiers. These voyagers mapped the world for the explorers of the future. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, Tim Peake, became Britain’s first astronaut to blast-off into the stratosphere to complete a six-month mission at the International Space Station. He added his name to a list of six Brits who have previously ventured into space, including Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut.
The UK has a proud heritage in space. This year marks the 55th anniversary of the UK joining the space race with the launch of Ariel 1, Britain’s first satellite in April 1962.
Today, the space sector adds £7bn to the UK economy, supports 70,000 British jobs, has one of the most highly-skilled workforces, and is growing four times faster than the rest of the economy, according to the UK Space Agency.
The aspirations for the UK space industry are lofty but there is a clear skills black hole. The Confederation of British Industry reports 40 per cent of employers struggle to recruit people from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds, and the shortage is expected to worsen over the next few years. The space sector may not reach its potential if young people are not enthused to take up STEM subjects.
My interest in space started at the age of five when my parents let me stay up late to watch an Apollo mission landing on the moon. This interest inspired me to learn about how these amazing vehicles were built and study STEM-related subjects from a very young age.
My elementary and junior high school education provided me with the foundation I relied on throughout my astronaut training when I was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 1996. One of my missions included commanding the STS-122 mission on Space Shuttle Atlantis to dock with the ISS, delivering and installing the European Space Agency Columbus laboratory. One of the many things I had in common with scientists, engineers and astronauts at NASA was our education in, and passion for STEM subjects.
STEM subjects can be daunting to many children. To engage them, more must be done to make learning these subjects fun. I am excited to support Lockheed Martin’s national STEM education programme, Generation Beyond, which is a learning platform for teachers and students.
Generation Beyond has been successful on my side of the pond and I am pleased it was recently launched in the UK for all British schools. It brings the fun of STEM back into classrooms.
Lockheed Martin has been involved in NASA missions for the last 40 years including recent projects such as the JUNO and Orion modules which are advancing deep-space exploration but the next 40 years and beyond will rely on young talent that are enthusiastic about STEM. Some of the work at Lockheed Martin’s UK business unit in Ampthill, Bedfordshire includes school science competitions such as challenging kids to build bottle rockets.
Throughout my career as a NASA astronaut, I flew two space shuttle missions and had the incredible privilege to see the whole earth from beyond a birds-eye view, but I would count it as a momentous achievement if I can inspire someone to become an astronaut, engineer or scientist so we can take people and our collective knowledge further into the depths of space.