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Author Topic:   Public interest in space in the United Kingdom

Posts: 188
From: UK
Registered: Nov 2007

posted 07-20-2012 09:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Apollo14LMP   Click Here to Email Apollo14LMP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Someone suggested recently that there is a lack of interest in spaceflight in the United Kingdom.

I dispute this. I asked Edgar Mitchell, to sign an 8x10 photograph through this website for my daughter's school. He wrote a personal "Aim High" message on it. I had it framed and handed it to the headteacher. My children have met a number of moonwalkers, Ed included.

To cut a long story short, it is end of the school year here today — moon landing day 20th July 1969 coincidentally. The other day the headteacher invited me and the wife to the assembly, which was a surprise.

I was very surprised on entering the hall to see a portrait suit picture of Ed Mitchell on the screen. The HT had done research and produced an amazing insight into Mitchell's life, and the work of Apollo to 5-11 year old children.

My daughters presented the signed framed photo to the school at the assembly.

I was equally surprised that a number of the children and by that I mean about 30% had some knowledge of Apollo and the main players. These are children born many decades after the moon landings. One child knew the names of many of the astronauts and the famous words spoken by one after his first steps. Many others knew something of Apollo!

So there you are, 5-11 year old English children in a state school, 43 years to the day after the first landing with some knowledge of the USA's finest work...

Here I argue that Apollo and interest in space travel is alive - visit Carleton High School, Yorkshire on one of Ken Willoughby's astronaut visits (Bean, Haise, Aldrin, Duke) sold out room of 500 people — interest in man's finest achievements and space travel is alive and kicking. It helps to bring the astronauts to the children to kindle that interest sometimes but I feel that interest does remain!

I also suggest that the work of these brave men is not forgotten and provides an inspirational role model for any child anywhere. Forty years after the event the work of the Apollo astronauts and all involved in the program offers hope for future generations.

I salute the bravery and work of Armstrong, Aldrin and all the moonwalkers on this great day!

David Bryant

Posts: 903
From: Norfolk UK
Registered: Feb 2005

posted 07-20-2012 09:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Bryant   Click Here to Email David Bryant     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hmmmm... I fear you paint an optimistic but emotionally-clouded picture, Andrew.

I was a teacher for thirty five years in KS2 and 3 and I'm afraid the situation as I observed it is quite different.

At KS1/2 the children in most schools receive only the barest teaching about space/astronomy: the only mandatory study units are the facts that the Earth revolves on its axis and around the Sun, and that it is the tilt of the axis that causes the seasons.

I still give free talks to schools and was amazed to find how few teachers at KS2 understood this, or could explain the difference between weight and mass.

I have yet to meet a single adult of ANY age (other than at Autographica or similar events) who knew the names of all 21 lunar landing mission astronauts: ask anyone you know who isn't a space geek who the command module pilots on Apollo 17 or Apollo 14 were. I bet you won't get a single correct response.

While it is wonderful that your daughter's school appeared to understand the significance of your portrait of Dr. Mitchell, I would caution that I once donated a framed piece of Apollo 13 heat shield signed by Lovell and Haise to a school on completing a three year contract. When I returned some time later to give a talk, I was interested to hear that it had been thrown away when the wall displays were changed at the end of the next term!

As a retired teacher, it has been my experience that you can enthuse a bunch of kids about anything in the short term, until the next term's topic comes along. I used to build flying solid-fuel rockets at one school: the kids really enjoyed learning about the history of spaceflight and knew all about Goddard, von Braun, Korolev etc. But I can report as a fact that the interest waned quite quickly after we moved on to our next science theme.

Last question: can YOU name all 11 members of the 1966 World Cup winning squad? Yet at the time, they were all over the media like a rash!

Autographica 2

Posts: 42
From: Biggin Hill Kent England
Registered: Aug 2004

posted 07-20-2012 09:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Autographica 2   Click Here to Email Autographica 2     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, I would agree that the interest in spaceflight is alive and well in the U.K.
It must be because we certainly don't have any trouble filling the event at Autographica.

However, spaceflight is only briefly covered in most schools as part of the curriculum.

I think that most people will kick themselves in the future for not bothering to meet these guys. None of the Apollo guys are getting any younger and it will soon be too late to meet them here in the U.K.

Take my word for it, these space flyers really do have the power to change young people's lives. In 2000, we had Dick Gordon at Northampton and introduced a school boy to him who had a history of behaviour and achievement problems. Dick gave him a long speech about how important his schoolwork was.

A few years later, we had Dick back again and at the show we bumped into the boy's father. He couldn't thank us enough and told us that the boy's life had completely turned around and he was now an A student.

Even he could not believe the change and that was all down to Dick.

So in short I would urge all parents to come and bring your children to meet these astronauts. They will thank you for it in the future, trust me.


Posts: 188
From: UK
Registered: Nov 2007

posted 07-20-2012 12:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Apollo14LMP   Click Here to Email Apollo14LMP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think the well attended events (Autographica, and Ken Willoughby) and my own observations do suggest that the Apollo program has left a legacy. They will always be remembered for the scientific, and engineering wonder that they are, and the name of those who went first are known to children of 5-11 years in UK schools today.

How many people could name the 66 squad — I cannot. But I was surprised to see how many children, young children at least knew something about an event (s)from so many a year ago.

Few people (except cS members) would be able to name all the moonwalkers. I was pleasantly surprised today...


Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 07-21-2012 02:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have to agree with David Bryant and I say this as a teacher of 35 years experience in a tough Essex school. Kids, even of secondary school age, are all for the immediate when it comes to both interest and passion. Yes, there are the odd exceptions, but generally speaking any interest is fleeting.

We didn't do too badly at the 'Academy'. I had a class stay behind until thrown out by the caretaker at 5.00pm listening to Carpenter's recovery. Classes listened to all the flights - Mercury through to the Shuttle - until I retired and in 1967 students sat a question on Astronautics in a public examination.

However, this was put into perspective by one incident. In 1963 I took a party to see by special invitation the film of the Glenn mission at the American Embassy. This was just a couple of days after the Kennedy assassination. Some twenty years later some of those I took attended a class reunion. They did remember going to the Embassy. Did they recall the film? No, they didn't. What they remembered was signing the book of condolence for the fallen President.

Like David, I too went into our feeder schools to tell the kids about spaceflight. They all listened attentively, asked sensible questions and showed interest in the subject. But this was all at that moment in time. It might have lasted a few days, but it wasn't long before other things became their priority. Any long term interest was rare.

This said, once the 'space bug' bites, it grips you. When this happens it can, and does, tend to cloud one's perspective about how others might perceive the subject. It is well to remember and remind oneself that your view just might not be that of the general public however much one would like it to be. By all means talk about it, but don't expect others to share your passion.

A final caution. Pragmatism is a commodity that is often in short supply among enthusiasts.


Posts: 4803
From: Brussels, Belgium
Registered: Jan 2001

posted 07-22-2012 03:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In my son's class (10 year old children), 2 on 15 know about Apollo, the others ignored man walked on the moon!

butch wilks

Posts: 190
From: Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK
Registered: Mar 2007

posted 07-22-2012 03:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for butch wilks   Click Here to Email butch wilks     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I do presentations on the history of space flight patches to the local astronomy clubs, and I have to say that it seem to me to be only the 30+ year olds that come to see the shows. I do not get many schools asking for a show.

I think this is down to the national curriculum having them do past histories way back (1600-1950) and not closer in time (1960-2000s) and only on UK history.

Now with no U.S. manned spaceflight and no build up to the Soyuz flight to the ISS, the younger people have no interest in it now.

We`ll all have to see if this picks up with a manned flight from the Kennedy Space Center in the years to come.


Posts: 1623
From: Worcestershire, England, UK.
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 07-22-2012 03:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tykeanaut   Click Here to Email Tykeanaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hopefully someone like ESA British astronaut Timothy Peake can help give the interest a boost?

David Bryant

Posts: 903
From: Norfolk UK
Registered: Feb 2005

posted 07-22-2012 04:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Bryant   Click Here to Email David Bryant     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another factor (in my opinion) is that some young people seem unable to differentiate between reality and the fantasy worlds of TV and film. I once asked a group of 17 year olds to whom I was delivering a presentation about Apollo 13 if they knew the names of any of the crew members. Consensual reply? You guessed! Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon! (Sorry Gary!)

If this is a reflection of the general situation, I doubt that any UK ESA astronauts could compete with the man who both saved Private Ryan and commanded Apollo 13 despite being profoundly aspergic/autistic!

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-22-2012 12:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One thing to keep in mind (no pun intended): interest doesn't necessarily today require committing facts to memory. Any device with a connection to the internet can bring up lists of moonwalkers and other facts just as quickly as a graphing calculator can solve for functions. Using a calculator rather than paper and pencil doesn't mean a student doesn't have a interest in math.

If it weren't for privacy concerns, it might be an interesting study to compile the web browsing histories of students and correlate them by time of day and frequency of visit. Do students only visit (if they visit during classroom hours? Are they referencing Wikipedia articles about space exploration? Are they looking at space related articles when they visit BBC News's website?

Some of this information (age independent) can be accessed by the individual sites' owners (I can, for example, see what pages on are most popular by readers from the UK) but an across-the-board study would require some type of opt-in process.


Posts: 188
From: UK
Registered: Nov 2007

posted 07-23-2012 04:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Apollo14LMP   Click Here to Email Apollo14LMP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I did not set out to paint an emotionally clouded picture of the Apollo program and events in my daughters school last week.

I'm sure most people would be surprised that the topic even got a mention in a school with pupils born 30 to 40 years after the program reached its peak.

The point I was trying to make is that even in the UK — 43 years to the day after the first landing there was still mention made of the times of Apollo.

I'm not suggesting that it forms part of SAT testing or the curriculum - I don't see why that should ever be the case. Just nice to see an end of term assembly based on the message of aiming high and doing your best to achieve good results, just as the astronauts have all worked hard to get their place in their chosen profession. An inspirational lecture perhaps?

The fact that so many YOUNG children knew that we had landed on the Moon and who the main players were was surprising. I was surprised that any knew anything of this now historic program.

All times are CT (US)

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