Science & Environment

'UK spaceman' Piers Sellers honoured

Piers Sellers (Nasa)
Image caption Piers Sellers has logged 35 days in space on three Nasa shuttle missions

The UK-born astronaut Piers Sellers has accepted a commemorative pin to mark his achievements in orbit.

The silver lapel badge, which takes the shape of a rocket, was awarded during a parliamentary event close to the House of Commons in Central London.

Dr Sellers is one of only six individuals born in Britain to make it into space.

He has flown three times with Nasa as a US citizen, most recently on shuttle Atlantis in May.

But he told BBC News he was unlikely to take part in a fourth mission.

"I've had three flights and it's been fantastic, but it really is time to give the young guys a chance," he said.

"If I take another flight, it means somebody else doesn't get one. There are some excellent young people in the US astronaut programme and I want to see them get every opportunity."

The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) has commissioned 10 silver pins, and Dr Sellers is the third person to receive one after Helen Sharman and Richard Garriott.

Image caption Piers Sellers: "A great honour"

The pins are awarded to both recognise the achievements of some extraordinary people, but also to promote human spaceflight.

The UK government does not fund any astronaut activities, and so the only Britons to get into space so far have done so by becoming US citizens and joining the American space agency, or by getting on a private programme of some kind.

Dr Sellers, Michael Foale and Nicholas Patrick fall into the former category; Ms Sharman and Mr Garriott fall into the latter. US shuttle pilot Greg Johnson was also born in Britain when his father was stationed in the country in 1962.

Helen Sharman and Richard Garriott were on hand to see Dr Sellers get his award. The spaceman said it was a great honour.

"It turns out I'm a dual citizen, which I didn't know until a few years ago. I'm very, very proud to have links to both countries. I am a US citizen who is from the UK."

Dr Sellers first joined Nasa in the 1980s, working at the Nasa Goddard Space Center in Maryland. It was there that he succeeded in getting on to the Nasa astronaut programme.

With a degree in ecology and a PhD in climate simulation, the Dr Sellers said he planned now to return to Goddard once again to resume his science pursuits.

Image caption The pin recognises an elite group of people but also stands for the promotion of human spaceflight

"I'm going to change over to the Nasa climate side of the house, starting early next year. I'll be at the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center.

"I'm going to help head up the climate programme there. I'm really looking forward to that. It's where I came from. I know a lot of the people - a wonderful bunch of people - and there's lots to do."

Michael Foale and Nicholas Patrick are expected to get their pins in 2011.

Tim Peake has just completed his basic training with the European Space Agency astronaut corps and is expected to go into orbit in the coming years. Assuming he does, Major Peake would also qualify for the honour.

"We are all delighted to be giving astronaut Piers Sellers his special British Interplanetary Society silver pin award," Nick Spall, fellow of the BIS and coordinator of the UK Human Spaceflight Campaign, told BBC News.

"He is one of only five UK-born people to have gone into orbital space so far - that's out of around 500 in total across the world.

"Piers, Helen Sharman, Richard Garriott, Mike Foale and Nick Patrick are excellent inspirational role-models for young people in the UK - through hard work, dedication, personal commitment and drive they have all achieved their spaceflight dreams in their various ways.

"Of course, if the UK government changed its current approach and gave modest support to human spaceflight, the inspirational and exploration benefits that the rest of the developed world enjoys through their national astronauts could be more widely appreciated."

Image caption Piers Sellers, Helen Sharman and Richard Garriott

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