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by Derek Goldman, Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager, The Open University in Scotland
01 July 2024
Fly me to the moon

European Lunar Symposium 13. Photograph by Andy Buchanan

Fly me to the moon

Last month saw 160 global members of the international lunar science and exploration community visit Dumfries and Galloway for the 2024 European Lunar Symposium (ELS). It is the first time that the symposium has been held in Scotland and at The Open University (OU) in Scotland, and we were delighted to have been successful in our bid to host it. 

The Open University is recognised globally as being a centre of excellence in planetary science and exploration, with a large and highly skilled staff group working in this area. Indeed, the OU has played a key role in several prominent space missions over the years – most recently Peregrine Mission One (PM1), earlier this year. 

Some of the world’s most prominent lunar scientists attended the event, exchanging ideas and discussing the latest findings from their research in lunar exploration.  Accomplished speakers attended from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) amongst many others.  
We were especially keen to host an event of this stature in rural Scotland, enabling delegates to discover some of Scotland’s lesser-known hidden treasures. Dumfries and Galloway with Britain’s first Dark Sky Park and its strong regional association with Neil Armstrong (seat of Clan Armstrong) was an ideal location for this year’s symposium. Indeed, we were thrilled to welcome Neil’s son, Rick Armstrong to Dumfries to be involved in several key events. 

Additionally, the South of Scotland has ambitions to play a crucial role in Scotland’s vibrant, and developing space economy, where 1 in 5 jobs related to space in the UK are in Scotland.  

Over the course of the symposium week, we worked with over 10 partners, regional, national, and international to deliver a hugely successful event.  
Young people from local schools enjoyed a day out at the ELS conference site on the stunning Crichton Campus, where they took part in lunar science sessions delivered by NASA personnel, OU academics, and other experts. They also gained an insight into careers in space from prominent members of the industry. A key element of the week was to inspire young people about jobs in the space industry - and that there are more opportunities available than being an astronaut! 

There were also four different events aimed at engaging the wider public across the week, ranging from prose and poetry events to an ‘open mic’ event, as well as a Solstice Seminar, run in partnership with the Crawick Multiverse Trust and chaired by Dr Hina Khan, Executive Director of Space Scotland.   

Professor Mahesh Anand, OU Professor of Planetary Science and Exploration, and co-chair of the symposium said: 

“I am keen to influence younger generations and encourage them to believe that they too can make a big difference in lunar exploration – and that they don’t need to go to the Moon to do it! 
“There needs to be a legacy from this event and by inspiring young people to get involved in the space economy, I feel confident that these young people will go on to pursue their interests and make a significant impact in the future that will be of benefit to the wider society.” 

The Scottish Government’s stated aim, as part of its Space Strategy, is to have Scotland become Europe’s leading space nation by 2030. Coupled with the UK government’s opening of an office of the UK Space Agency in Edinburgh there hasn’t been a more fitting time for Scotland to host such an important and prestigious event. 

We look forward to continuing to work with our respective governments, international agencies, and partners in the space sector, fulfilling the OU’s mission ‘to be open to people, places, methods and ideas’. 

This article is sponsored by The Open University in Scotland

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