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Friday, September 19, 2008


European scientists and engineers are working on a potential new mission to bring back material from an asteroid. This, according to reports on the radio, is going to cost about E300 million.

Some years ago, back before I was expelled from the Liberal Democrats for having ideas, they put out a general call to members for some innovative idea to discuss at conference. I put in a motion for debate calling for Scotland to put up a £20 million prize for a probe to soft land on an asteroid (but not to return which partly explains the lower cost). The party's response was, I was told with perhaps some exaggeration, that the high heid yins of the LibDems rolled around the floor laughing at the impossibility. But then this was 2002 back before anybody as respectable as ESA was planning anything similar.

The £20 million I proposed is a lot less than ESA's £300 million but my proposal was just for a probe to go there which is a lot cheaper than making something big enough & complicated enough to bring something back. Also it wasn't being run by ESA which, on half NASA's budget, has yet to put a human into space.

Compare this with the Google Lunar X-Prize which has put up 20 million dollars for an independent probe which will take a vehicle to the Moon which can move around there & do serious scientific work. 12 teams have put in for this.

Looking at it that way I am convinced that there is much more chance of my proposal working than of ESA's doing so, within budget. A Scottish prize would, still, be a major spur to high technology in Scotland, at a price, if it worked, less than the amount paid by many quangos for consultant's reports & if it didn't for no cost at all, that being the nature of prizes.

Below is the wording of my proposed conference motion to demonstrate how forward looking post devolution Scotland & the LibDems could be. At the very least I have no doubt it would have attracted some press coverage & as can presently be seen, establish both country & party as being ahead of the curve. Oh well. The downside of offering prizes is, of course, that you don't have to pay out which is not very far down. You can see the argument in full on this link.

Conference calls on the Scottish Parliament to offer a prize of 20 million pounds to the first Scottish group to soft land a vehicle on an asteroid beyond the orbit of Mars by 2050

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