A British astronaut could walk on the Moon for the first time by 2025, Nasa officials have told the UK Government.
The space agency told Michelle Donelan, the Science Secretary, it was “incredibly possible” that a British person could be on the Artemis III mission – the first time that humans will walk on the Moon’s surface in more than 50 years.
She told The Telegraph it was “only a matter of time until we get a British person on the Moon”, and suggested UK astronauts should also be involved in the first missions to Mars in the next decade.
All 12 people who have ever walked on the moon’s surface, on missions by Nasa’s Apollo space programme, have been American.
But a new space race has sprung up as countries use lunar landings to test new technology that will be used to put a person on Mars – prompting the first crewed moon missions since Apollo ended in 1972.
India has said it hopes to put a person on the moon by 2040, and build a space station by 2035.
Nasa’s Artemis programme, which launched its first mission last year, is a collaboration between Nasa, the European Space Agency (ESA) and other agencies in Japan, Germany, Israel and Canada.
The first mission, using the new Orion spacecraft, took flight in November 2022. A second, to put astronauts in lunar orbit on the Lunar Gateway satellite, launches in November next year, while the third will put humans on the moon’s surface in December 2025.
British firms have been involved in constructing the Lunar Gateway’s service and habitation modules, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been chosen to ferry astronauts between the satellite and the surface.
Ms Donelan visited Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston on Wednesday and said she had asked officials about the prospect of a British astronaut joining the crewed moon mission.
“I asked Nasa, in relation to the Artemis programme, what was the feasibility around the Artemis 3 mission, and they said it was incredibly possible,” she said.
“We have one of the most innovative space sectors in the world, and we have some fantastic talents, homegrown. Look at Tim Peake.”
“The second Artemis mission will be going around the moon, and then the third one will go on the moon. So arguably the one to be in is the third one.”
Mr Peake, the first British astronaut to go to the International Space Station, has already said he hopes to walk on the moon.
Three other Britons were chosen to join the ESA last year, after 22,500 applications from across the continent. They are Rosemary Coogan, Meganne Christian and John McFall, a former Paralympian.
Nasa officials visited London last July to discuss an “international partner” joining the Artemis III mission, which will also see a woman and person of colour visit the moon for the first time.
Ms Donelan said she hopes British astronauts will also join future missions to Mars, which Nasa officials said on Wednesday could launch in the next ten years.
“Maybe we should be thinking more about whether we can get a Brit to Mars. What I’m telling you is that we’ve got some fantastic talent that I know would certainly relish the opportunity,” she said.
The UK spends around £400m on the ESA each year, and is one of the top four contributors, alongside France, Germany and Italy.
In September, Britain re-joined the Copernicus satellite programme, which is a collaboration between the ESA and EU, following a post-Brexit stand off over funding.
The ESA is one of five space agencies, including Russia’s Roscosmos, that contributes to the International Space Station (ISS), which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Monday.
Ms Donelan, who visited Nasa’s Mission Control this week, welcomed the ongoing collaboration with Russia on the ISS in spite of the war in Ukraine.
“I think one of the things that struck me is that in those 25 years, there’s been a great deal of conflict and change, including especially at the moment, given Russia’s involvement,” she said.
“But the fact that it has been maintained as a constant really demonstrates how important the space agenda is, and how we can work together on projects when we set our minds to it.”
“If we think about future telecoms and satellites, an area which we are particularly leading on, it is incredibly important,” she added.
“Identifying weather patterns et cetera, all these different things – it goes much further than just man’s ambitions.”
The UK space industry employs 50,000 people and is worth more than £17.5 billion to the British economy, according to government figures.
The RAF also operates a Space Command, based in Buckinghamshire, which has a remit to “monitor the space domain, enable global military operations, and protect and defend allied interests in space”.