Main content

HMS Challenger and the Space Shuttle

Jonathan Freedland compares the end of the shuttle programme with the decommissioning of the 1872 British oceanographic survey HMS Challenger.

Jonathan Freedland compares the end of the US Space Shuttle programme with the decommissioning of the British oceanographic survey HMS Challenger in 1876.

As the final US Space Shuttle mission blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Jonathan Freedland compares the end of the shuttle programme with the decommissioning of the 1872 British oceanographic survey HMS Challenger. The very boat after which the shuttle, Challenger, was named.

It's a story of high adventure at the farthest reaches of the known world but also a lesson in the way that super powers use state money, military prerogatives and scientific research to project power and influence.

Challenger was a British Oceanographic mission that sailed from 1872-76. It was designed to chart the depths of the oceans and assess the currents more accurately. This was a vital aid to the efficient global navigation of British warships and trade vessels. Hugely successful on its own terms it was scrapped by the treasury on the grounds of cost. But its work is the foundation stone of modern oceanography.

Producer: James Cook.

Available now

30 minutes

Broadcasts