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About Spaceman

Jonathan Amos | 12:37 UK time, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Hi. There's a rumour going around that Britain doesn't "do" space anymore. It does - although given its extraordinary technological heritage, many would expect it to do a lot more. It's amazing to think the UK once had its own rocket that could launch a satellite... and it just gave up on it!

Jonathan_Amos_at_the_Kourou_spaceportOn this blog, you'll get a European focus on space developments. Those who know my writings will have discerned a clear interest in where all the euros are spent in orbit, through its dedicated agency: Esa. I hope this will complement the many excellent blogs already out there that concentrate on matters in the US (although I won't be short of a few comments on those issues, too). You'll also get a smattering of astronomy and planetary science as well. I'm not just interested in the rockets and spacecraft for their own sake; I want to know what they deliver in terms of the science and the engineering. In other words, on this blog, you will get "can" and plenty of "spam".

A word about me generally. I've been a science specialist with the BBC on and off for more than 20 years. I'm one of the few original "explorers" left in the building who started the BBC News website in 1997. I initiated its Health, Science/Environment and Technology sections. If you pass my desk, you can't miss it - it's the one with a monster model of an Ariane 5.

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  • 1. At 5:58pm on 15 Jul 2009, curiousman wrote:

    Ever since Mrs Thatcher said we in the UK "couldn't afford it [space research]" we as a country have been sidelined by the rest of the European technologically-advanced nations contributing to space research. In my opinion - and I have worked in this industry - one of the reasons why Germany, Italy and France lead in this high-tech field is because their governments have a greater proportion of Engineers (particularly the French govt), rather than the accountants and classists we have in the UK. As a result they can evaluate technical risks and match them to financial budgets more accurately.
    At long last, after the financiers have now proved themselves incompetent, the UK government is saying we need to invest in high-tech areas to survive economically as a nation (surprise, surprise ...)
    We do have some good space engineers and companies (Prof Sweeting's SSTL at Guildford is an example), and in my opinion the Europeans are technically better at space technology and innovation than the Americans. Go for it UK!

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  • 2. At 8:03pm on 15 Jul 2009, dre wrote:

    Great! I'm very surprised, but pleased, to see this blog pop up on BBC. I do hope its receives good visibility on the website and helps to promote the public's interest in human spaceflight. Its high time us brits caught up with the rest of the world spacefaring nations and got involved in mankind's return to the moon. What we need now is a complete turnaround it government policy towards human spaceflight. I'm certainly not expecting us to suddenly starting a UK human space programme, but just that a decision from government that we can no longer afford to turn our backs on human space exploration. We need something like a UK space agency with the executive power and funding to to get involved in ESA's astronaut programme, publicly endorse and promote ISS, as well as work with NASA and other agencies as the world prepares to return the moon and mars. We need to get with the programme!

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  • 3. At 08:43am on 16 Jul 2009, Parax wrote:

    It's amazing to think the UK once had its own rocket and actually did launch a satellite...

    there I fixed it for you!

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  • 4. At 3:41pm on 17 Jul 2009, kwaite wrote:

    Hi Jonathon. I too am very surprised and pleased to see a space blog on the BBC. Like you I am an Apollo Child (earliest memory was Apollo 10; and I could do the last 30 seconds of the countdown commentary).
    Given these geeky credientials I would like to confess I'm strayed from the human spaceflight path. I love to follow the Shuttle missions but they and the ISS are just a complete waste of resources. Robotic spacecraft are seen as the poor relations, but they provide a much better ROI and the science is huge compared to the meagre "growing crystals in micro-gravity" type offering on the ISS. So a plea: cover the Shuttle but really get stuck into the really mouth-watering stuff: Webb, Hubble, New Horizons, Herschel, Plank, etc, etc.
    PS Given we are contemporaries: what odds do you give on us seeing humans on Mars in our lifetime? I'll put a quid on zero.
    PPS If you need someone to carry your bags to a Ariane launch then I'm your man if we can get it passed the BBC expenses office!

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  • 5. At 07:32am on 18 Jul 2009, jobsworthwatch wrote:

    The British Government and space flight are bit like the Curtis Wright company and the jet engine. At the end of WW2 Curtis Wright were the worlds largest manufacturer of areo piston engines and failed to recognise the potential of the jet engine!

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  • 6. At 12:27pm on 19 Jul 2009, dre wrote:

    Well looks like we're finally getting a UK Space Agency. This is a positive step forward and reason to celebrate for all brits that took part in the BNSC consultations on the UK's civil Space strategy.

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  • 7. At 10:02pm on 19 Jul 2009, Jonathan Amos wrote:

    kwaite (4): No money at all is coming out of my wallet on the bet of humans on Mars; I simply don't believe it will happen in my lifetime. If there is a step-change in technology, perhaps. Otherwise, I just can't see it. A better bet: what chance we confirm life elsewhere in the Solar System before we forty-somethings are in our graves? On the subject of robotic spacecraft, you'll get plenty of that. Herschel and Planck are extraordinary missions and I make no apologies for giving them a lot of attention.
    dre_sprints (6): There is a possibility we may get a UK space agency shortly, but it is by no means certain. There are powerful voices in government who are opposed to the concept and they may yet win out against those who want space policy managed more centrally. If Britain does announce the formation of an agency, I would stick my hand up and ask some questions: (1) Will it be given full control of the civil space budget that is currently spread across the various government departments and research councils? (2) If not, does that make the agency simply another version of the British National Space Centre but with a fancy new logo? I say this because it would need to be explained how strategic decisions on space policy can be taken by an organisation that has no budget. And more to the point, (3) will it have an increased budget? The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said there was no point in setting up an agency unless the current levels of space expenditure were increased; we would be better off sticking with the BNSC-facilitated "partnership" ...but all this is for a future post on Spaceman.

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  • 8. At 10:08pm on 21 Jul 2009, dre wrote:

    Spaceman, I partly disagree with the view that a new agency with no change in budget control is pointless. I think the government is so behind the curve right now that any change, is good. Give us a new agency with a fancy new logo, the money can come later. The publicity alone would be light years ahead of anything BNSC has achieved to date!

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  • 9. At 11:15pm on 26 Jul 2009, John wrote:

    Jonathan,
    I read your stories on the BBC News all the time, and i do enjoy your style of writing. I'm delighted to see this space blog, its good!

    One thing i am very interested in is Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. Although its going to have its headquarters in New Mexico in the US, Virgin Galactic is a truly British company with Will Whitehorn as the head of operations.

    Personally i feel that NASA, the ESA and RosCosmos have let us all down. In the 1960's and 70's, the whole world felt that Space was our oyster and within a few years, we would all be able to travel to space. The whole thing has stagnated.

    Please report some more stories about Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic. This is our new hope for the 21st century, the most exciting and exhilarating prospect in decades, and its truly British!

    John.

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  • 10. At 12:52pm on 17 Aug 2009, SkinMechanix wrote:

    Is this blog going to be a regular feature? I very much hope so.

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  • 11. At 00:42am on 12 Sep 2009, msdaif wrote:

    I think the UK should be a leader in space technology because of its rich heritage of science and technology. The contribution of the UK to this field is vital and will advance not only the UK but humanity.

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  • 12. At 10:19am on 08 Oct 2009, WorldMaker wrote:

    Hello Mr Spacemen, how do I contact you with the latest press announcements and invitations to the next Space presentations?


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  • 13. At 8:50pm on 19 Oct 2009, Dr Hfuhruhurr wrote:

    Hi Jonathan, quick question but it always astounds/pleases me that the news stories featuring space/astronomy gain such high readership. For example, today, the exoplanet story is top of the "most read" list. Do you keep such statistics and is this reflective of the general public's hunger for space news?
    I think this is fantastic news btw, that the interest in space is so high, I only wish it translated into investment!

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  • 14. At 11:40am on 25 Nov 2009, PeteT wrote:

    Great program on R4 (Herschel) ! very inspiring ! (especially encouraging for people considering a career in Science, Technology and engineering).

    Question: what was the haunting Music ?

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  • 15. At 11:55am on 25 Nov 2009, nrag001 wrote:

    Hey Jonathan, looks like little old New Zealand is set to join the space race too. Rocket Lab is aiming to be the first private company to reach space in the southern hemisphere with the Atea-1 sounding rocket.

    The local news channel has set up a website:

    http://www.3news.co.nz/Technology/ATEA1RocketLaunch/tabid/1271/Default.aspx

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  • 16. At 11:55pm on 30 Dec 2009, dracwood wrote:

    I'm new to your blog. I live in the US and read the BBC on-line news. I like the BBC and consider it less biased than other sources. There is something that bothers me with the science/space news and I hope that you can help me out. The BBC on-line shows the name of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as "Nasa". We know that NASA is an acronym just like BBC (not "Bbc") and the letters used are the first letters of the title of the agency and are supposed to capitalized. Please, please, tell the writers of the on-line news to use NASA and not "Nasa".

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  • 17. At 07:49am on 24 May 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    curiousman wrote:

    "Europeans are technically better at space technology and innovation than the Americans. Go for it UK!"

    Europeans are not of one culture or one country as Europe is not a country.

    As for being better than Americans at "space technology and innovation" obviously that is far from being the case as most of the world's most important and influential technologies and innovations in the last 100 years in space and otherwise have clearly come from America.

    A comprehensive list would be too long to bother writing but when a country in Europe builds its own Shuttle, lands on the Moon and Mars, has two rovers on Mars, builds a GPS system, builds stealth aircraft like the F-22, builds supercarriers, builds an SR-71, develops an internet, files anywhere near as many patents, produces and develops the many companies and technologies that make the internet, computing and IT what it is, builds supercomputers, invents and develops as many drugs and medical technologies and procedures, etc, etc, then you can comment about that particular country.

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  • 18. At 07:47am on 29 May 2010, Chantal wrote:

    The world is half way through its life - then the sun will be dead so we need to find another planet - we desperately need warp speed and nuclear fission is too dangerous that is why cold fusion - the genuine article is needed - any geniuses out there?

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