Two announcements today on the space front show how computer technology will be the way forward in space research.
First up was the launch of the UK Space Agency with a remit to co-ordinate policy and spending on the UK's space research and development programmes. This is a welcome step, but one which sends out a very clear message: it will be computers only in orbit from Team UK.
At the other end of the spectrum came the news of the successful test of Virgin's passenger craft, VSS Enterprise, which will take the well-heeled traveller into low-Earth orbit within a year or two.
These news nuggets, along with the announcement that Nasa is to scrap its Constellation heavy-lifting rocket, effectively leaving the US to beg rides with other space-faring nations, highlights the deep changes going on in the space industry.
One small step for a man ...
When President Kennedy first set man on the road to orbit he did so, he said, not because it was easy but because it was hard. He didn't know how right he was but, as we've seen, it's also phenomenally expensive, rather dangerous and, these days, a bit pointless.
Even back then there were plenty in Nasa who saw little or no value in putting a man into orbit or onto the Moon. With the same budget you could put 10 times the number of instruments on the Moon and in orbit that would have yielded a much better return on investment.
However, there are psychological factors in wanting to see man leave the gravity well and experience life off planet. It was a Cold War statement that an American man would be the first to walk on land that was not the Earth.
Similarly, the Chinese and Indians are looking to get men and women on the moon. There's very little scientific reason for this; it's just a way of asserting national pride.
The fascination with space is why Richard Branson and others will make money by putting people into orbit. The costs are low enough that a small number of passengers will pay the thousands of dollars to make such trips possible.
But let's not forget this is not orbital flight, with its attendant costs and risks. Passengers will get shot up on a long arc and sucked back by gravity after experiencing a few moments of weightlessness and, I'm willing to bet, a few upset stomachs.
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