To boldly go where (nearly) no Brit has gone before

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When I met Major Tim Peake two years ago he was pretty unsure about his chances of getting to the International Space Station. While Britain contributes to the European Space Agency’s €4,000,000,000 budget we’ve never poured money into its manned spaceflight programme and the countries that do haven’t exactly been keen for us to get time in space for free.

Nevertheless a monumental lobbying effort on behalf of the UK Space Agency appears to have paid off. And the fact that there will be a Brit on board the Space Station for five months in 2015 is literally one of the most important things to happen to British space science for years.

Contrary to popular belief we Brits do ‘do space’. We have a growing small satellite industry, plans for a revolutionary launch system and our space industry contributes around £9billion to the UK economy. But nothing has the power to capture the general public like seeing someone like us floating about up there.

Someone suffering from #Britishastronautproblems, no tea bags till the next supply ship arrives, lending another astronaut some change for the space vending machine and being too awkward to ask for it back before, or having the entire plot of his favourite American drama spoiled by Twitter before someone can beam it up to space.

On a serious note though, if Tim Peake could be half as successful as the recently landed Commander Chris Hadfield he could inspire a whole generation of Brits to take up a science, or consider going into engineering or even just realise that the International Space Station exists, and people live there and it’s so big you can see it with your own eyes if you look in the right direction at the right time. I’ve heard he can play the guitar, so that’s a start.

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Today is just the start to Tim’s journey, so do yourself a favour and follow him on Twitter. Live his journey from today’s press conference in the Science Museum; to the moment he climbs into a rocket in a freezing desert in the middle of Kazakhstan and long after he lands back on earth almost half a year later. He’s soon to become a member of a very select club, but as the first Brit to do it, he’s going to be taking us all with him.

The interview i did with Tim Peake two years ago (here if you’re on a mobile):

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Man gets in pod, pod goes up, man jumps from pod

GIF: Felix Baumgartner jumps from space.  on Twitpic

If you didn’t watch this live you missed the visual event of the year for me so far.

Felix Baumgartner got in a capsule attached to a balloon, spent two hours twiddling his thumbs and worrying that the heater on his visor wasn’t working and then jumped. Well fell, although there was apparently a small ‘bunny hop’ off the step.

At the time of blogging Baumgartner’s jump broke two records, highest balloon flight and longest freefall, with the possibility of a third if he breaks the sound barrier on the way down.

The jump was awe-inspiring, with millions watching online collectively holding their breath as he climbed out onto the platform no bigger than a skateboard and it is said the feat could help develop ways to bring astronauts safely back from space in an emergency. Of cause that doesn’t stop “Bum Gardener” trending moments after he landed… I love the Internet.

UPDATE: It’s confirmed he broke the sound barrier, so that’s three records in the bag!

#savetwisst

Space geeks @twisst needs you now.

@Twisst is the twitter account that tweets you when the there’s an opportunity to catch the International Space Station as it flies overhead. And this morning Twitter told its creator that I believes it to be spam. If you follow the account you know that it’s clearly not and it would be a massive shame if this service was shut down because of the social networks drive to profitability.

So we all know what we need to do. #savetwisst is what we’ll tweet. Let the space geek community know about it. Astronauts, scientists, the NASA administrator himself. This is a service that lets thousand of people catch the ISS and it is something that needs to be kept.

#savetwisst

 

UPDATE: So we did it! Twitter got in touch with @Twisst and the service is back up and running, well done all.

The original moonwalker slips the bonds of earth

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I wasn’t alive to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I don’t actually even remember the moment when I first saw footage of his ‘giant leap’. But I’ll remember where I was when I heard the original moonwalker had died. Sitting on a balcony at a hotel, staring up at the stars, wearing a t shirt with a picture of an Apollo astronaut on.

Apollo was what it was, a phenomenal human achievement wrapped up in an attempt to show an enemy who’s boss. But the raw human story of three of our kind hurtling away from us at speeds to high to comprehend to plant a flag on a desolate piece of rock we all take for grated is one that touched the world and will be told throughout human history.

I have never met an Apollo astronaut, I’m unlikely to pay the hundreds of pounds for a ticket to one of their numerous speaking events. But I hope one day I can visit the Apollo 11 memorial park, nestled in that far corner of the sea of tranquility and take my children’s children to touch the box keeping that famous footprint safe.

There was a half moon above the balcony where I wrote this post, but a moon that tonight reminds us all what can be achieved if we put our minds to it.

Have you heard the one about the Isle of Wight Space Program?

It’s one of those funny little facts that not many people know. The UK used to have a government funded satellite launcher program and we tested rockets on the Isle of Wight.

And this Friday marked 40 years since Prospero, the only British built satellite to launch on a British built rocket began it’s adventure on space. So I (along with several otheer people) went for a bit of an adventure with some fellow space geeks to the it’s birth place..

The Black Knight program was very basic, a stumbling into the world of space exploration compared to the work of some of our American cousins and it was cancelled almost immediately after Prospero completed it’s first orbit but for many it was the start of a long career in various aerospace industries. And if you want to hear their thoughts listen below…
 

This will be start of a series of posts about the secret UK space industry, as i’m just about to start working on a radio documentary all about it. So if you thought space is only about NASA and Space Shuttles, prepare to be proved wrong.

Rockets, satellites and tours of the VAB

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It’s been a big weekend for the European Space Agency. After years of planning, building and logistics a Soyuz rocket finally lifted off from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana.

This is the beginning of something big. It’s also the realisation of a dream ESA has had for a long time. And turning the colonial piece of land first but together by the French on their own into the European equivalent of Florida’s Space Coast.

It means that Europe can now launch the worlds more reliable rocket (as long as we buy them off the Russians) and we can begin to build our competitor to America’s GPS system.

Galileo, I case you haven’t heard, is meant to create a global positioning system more accurate than the current GPS system and could lead to technologies such as ‘cars driving themselves’ to become a reality.

It also means that if the US Army ever decides to turn their system off for whatever reason we might all still be able to find our way to our Nan’s house without bringing out the A to Z.

Unfortunately while it’s taken years to get a couple of satellites up into space it’s going to take even longer to complete the set and get to the point where devices are available to buy that can receive their signals. And until that happens the whole scheme is a little pointless.

Good on ESA for having the vision to expand our spaceport, but until I see some humans riding those Soyuz rockets it’s all a little boring.

P.S. nice little add on. This tweet dropped down this evening…

I went around the VAB earlier this year and that tweet means the tourists to KSC next month are going to get an amazing treat!