Future space stars took a trip to the House of Commons to rub shoulders with scientists.

Twelve students from Loughborough College’s space engineering programme for pupils aged over 16, the first in the country, gave a demonstration to Science Minister David Willetts and heard from Professor Brian Cox on the importance of space education.

Anu Ojha, director of education at the National Space Academy and a teacher on the course, said: “This is a very special group of students who have been chosen for a unique course. They have access to personnel and equipment at the college and the National Space Centre that would be the envy of any sixth-former. There are some incredibly exciting opportunities ahead of them in a dynamic industry.”

The reception was hosted by the parliamentary space committee. Phillip Lee, its executive vice-chair, said: “It is clear that space has a key and growing role, both in inspiring and lifting the aspirations of young people and in boosting the skills base needed for the UK’s knowledge-driven economy.

“This unique and innovative course provides an exciting pathway to further study and to  industry, and addresses the country’s urgent need for more engineers and scientists.”