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Tory space minister mixes up Mars and the Sun

Space minister Andrew Griffith announced funding for two companies working in Scotland. (Aaron Chown/PA)
Space minister Andrew Griffith announced funding for two companies working in Scotland. (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Conservative space minister has apparently confused Mars with the Sun.

Andrew Griffith, who has been in charge of the space sector since November, also mistook Jupiter for Saturn.

On a walk around the Science Museum in London, Mr Griffith pointed to an exhibit showing the surfaces of different planets, the House magazine reported. “Now we have got Mars,” he said, before being told by a member of museum staff that it was actually the Sun.

He went on to say “that one is Saturn”, after the display changed, before the employee said “no, no, that is Jupiter”, according to the magazine.

Insisting he is learning on the job as space minister, he said: “I’m not an encyclopaedia.”

Space minister Andrew Griffith mistook the Sun for Mars
Space minister Andrew Griffith mistook the Sun for Mars

In an interview with the House, Mr Griffith also said he would not want to visit space, saying it is a “fascinating” but one “for other people”.

He said: “Would I want to be the first minister in space? I think the whole idea of space exploration is fascinating.

“It’s enormously good that people like Tim Peake and others do that, but I’m very respectful of the amount of proficiency that goes into that.”

When pressed on whether he would go up into the stratosphere, he replied: “That’s for other people.”

A year on from the failure of Britain’s first rocket launch, Mr Griffith insisted that the UK “is a great spacefaring nation”.

He added: “We’re one of about half a dozen countries in the world that have got real credibility in space.”

The former investment banker and businessman said that in order for humans to colonise Mars, “you’re going to need a lot of the British research and innovation that we’re funding right now”.

Peregrine Mission One, which was the first American attempt to land on the Moon in 50 years, was carrying an instrument built by UK scientists before its journey was brought to an end by a run of technical problems.

Onboard was the Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS), which was developed in the UK by scientists from The Open University (OU) and the Science Technology Facilities Council (STFC) RAL Space – the UK’s national space lab.

The device was supposed to analyse the thin lunar atmosphere as well as find out more about how water might be moving around the moon.

Discussing the UK’s ambitions for space, Mr Griffith added: ““How do we crowd in private capital alongside the substantial public capital we’re putting in? I think the classic things will be raising awareness. It’s a category that people need to understand,” he says.

“I think having things like a space strategy, which the UK didn’t have until recently, gives people a long-term roadmap so they understand what we’re doing as a government.”