Look for great Earth views, the Moon and Mars but leave the stars to your dreams
In a grand tour of human space exploration, reviewing the great achievements of the past and considering possibilities for space tourism, Andr» Balogh, Professor of Space Physics at Imperial College London, will tell the annual BA Festival of Science that all future options are on hold unless the space shuttle starts flying again and work on its replacement is seriously progressed.
Commenting directly on the final report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, its recommendations and the consequences for space exploration, Professor Balogh says that prospects depend crucially on the availability of increased funding for NASA.
"Unless the recommendations are taken fully on board and implemented so the shuttle can resume safer flying, and a replacement is really got underway seriously this time, there is no such thing as a foreseeable future for human space flight outside science fiction," Professor Balogh will say.
"And the only way that a positive future could be guaranteed is to increase the NASA budget to something like twice its present size."
Professor Balogh will speak during this year's BA Festival of Science at The University of Salford, as part of the BA Engineering Section and Royal Academy of Engineering day of talks on the theme of ''Sustainability: engineering at new frontiers."
Professor Balogh described the fascination we have for human space exploration, saying that žrobots can never replace humans waving flags", with astronauts serving as our proxies, going to places never seen before by human eyes.
Considering the future, Professor Balogh says that realistic prospects boil down to exploration in the solar system while potential opportunities for space tourism in the coming 30 years include trips into Earth-orbit "for the most amazing views", visits to the Moon and its possible moon-base colony, travel to Mars, and asteroid-chasing missions.
Looking beyond our current knowledge, to the distant future, he says that everything is contingent on žnew physics, new technology and high, sustained levels of funding." He also considers the possibility of time travel through wormholes, but concludes, "It''s all science fiction for now. Let's hope that the USA will make the first essential steps to get back into space safely."
Professor Balogh's talk reviews the history of space stations - MIR, its achievements and its near misses and the International Space Station (ISS) - its present status and plans for the future if the shuttle programme resumes safe flying and a shuttle replacement is developed.
He also surveys the early years of space exploration and its greatest achievements - chiefly the Apollo programme, and Apollo 13. This was a complete success, he explains, but owes much to the fact that as a national priority for the USA it was very generously funded.