Adventurers to fund space travel, astronomer royal says

Moon landing
Image caption Astronauts on the moon but the astronomer royal believes future missions will be robotic

The astronomer royal has set out his vision of the future of space exploration in an interview to mark 40 years since the manned moon landings.

Cambridge University's Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics Martin Rees believes planets like Earth may be found in the next two to three years.

But it may take 20 more years before an image of one is captured, he said.

He also believes the need for manned space exploration is diminished by new technologies and advances in robotics.

Future manned space exploration will be the province of adventurers rather than state-backed missions, he believes.

"Those walking on the surface of planets like Mars are likely to be adventurers of the sort who conquered Everest," he said.

His biggest wish is to have answers to the questions about how life began in the first place.

He said: "I'm sure that in two or three years we'll know from Kepler (Nasa's observatory) there are many other planets like the earth orbiting other stars.

"But I think it may be 20 years before we get an image of a planet.

"As to whether they will have life on them, I would not take any bets at all.

"Biology is a much harder subject than astronomy and we don't know how life began on earth.

"The moon landings were an important impetus to technology but you have to ask the question what is the case for sending people back into space?

How life began

"I think that the practical case gets weaker and weaker with every advance in robotics and miniaturisation.

"I hope that some people living today will walk on Mars, but I think they will do this not for any practical purpose but with the same motive as those who climb Everest or the pioneer explorers.

"I think the future for manned space exploration will be a cut-price, high-risk programme, perhaps even partly privately funded which would be an adventure, more than anything practical.

"The scientific question I'd most like to have the answer to is whether there is life out in space and how life began.

"This is a question that would have fascinated Darwin and Galileo, 400 years after he made his telescopes and looked at craters on the moon."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites