Friday, 30 November 2012

"Bilge and a waste of money" Royal Decree

Dr Ian Crawford is a brilliant scientist, of that there is no doubt...but his article in A&G the RAS journal this month on the legacy of Apollo is just outstanding. The ADS citation count alone, and the efficiency of the astronauts on the moon walks shows time and again that WE HAVE TO EXPLORE not just send robots. Even Steven Squyres conceded that point, and he's had two rovers on mars for the best part of a decade, not a cumulative 25 days across 6 missions.

What stunned me though in the article was the irresponsible and quite appalling comments by the then "Astronomer Royal" which sadly seem to have been passed down through successive ones... that "it was bilge and a waste of money"...

If taking part in humankind's greatest technological achievement, uniting most of the planet, ending the cold war, and delivering inspiration to millions of kids, whilst generating thousands of scientific papers and research, and making international heroes 

out of a group of men who risked their lives to do something that 43 years on we've STILL not matched is "bilge" then I give up with these people...

Appointed spokesmen (and women) for science like the Astronomer Royal should support breakthroughs and discovery. Werner and his team delivered a breakthrough in technology, whilst Aldrin/Armstrong through to Cernan and Schmitt from the Crawford paper delivered science on a scale which is still unprecedented and has never been matched since by all of the robotic landers on other worlds..

Science is science, we should all applaud it, if it furthers our knowledge, and yes, it may and did have political aims too, but it had them and delivered something great from it, unlike the Vietnam War and every damn war since, which has done nothing but bring misery and suffering to millions. A political desire to "outperform" or "show off" to your "sworn enemies" in the case of Apollo was the spark that ended the cold war...if that's a bad thing then we live in a very very messed up world.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Passion for Space

Some nights I dream of what it must have been like to walk on the Moon or what it will be like to walk on Mars for someone in a few decades time. Then there's the dream of seeing the sky with your own eyes in the way that the giant telescopes do... that "Rutger...time to die" moment from Bladerunner, imagining what it must be like to skim past the Orion Nebula or hover above the galaxy. Most of humanity look up at the sky, and never pay it any attention, it's always there, so, like a local building or corner shop, why would/should they care..? Some people look up and may wonder a bit, or stare at the Moon looking for meaning to a problem in their life,,,,

I think astronomy people and fans of space science are blessed, in that we look up, and see a million suns burning brightly, consuming their gaseous fuel at a relentless pace... with a plethora of planets orbiting probably each and every one of them, we see gas clouds, intricate in form, and colour making new stars, we see the explosive remnants of stars, weaving their spider like tendrils across the sky... that once may have harboured life bearing planets in their own solar systems, we see galaxies of every conceivable shape and size, huge black holes at their centres with arms that stretch out for distances we cannot begin to comprehend, we see our nearest satellite, shining brightly, never changing and yet constantly illuminated in subtly different ways... with the footprints of 12 great human beings imprinted on them for the next 10-20-30 million years, but most of all, I think we see and grasp the Universe in a way most don't... an infinite sea, as I think Sagan once called it, where we're just starting to dip our toes in to the cosmic shore.
Like most things we may take for granted, one day it may not be there, maybe light pollution, maybe illness or maybe some other factor will make it impossible for you as an individual to see it.. so next time you step outside, don't forget to look up, and if it's a clear night, just take a few moments to enjoy the greatest, most beautiful free light show this planet has to offer... and then realise why people who are passionate about astronomy and space are that way..

This post is dedicated to friends who are "the astronomy" people , and to my friend Giovanni Sostero, who I hope against hope will again see the universe he loves so much

Friday, 23 November 2012

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Giovanni Sostero

It is with deep sadness that I must tell you of the sudden illness of our
friend, mentor and colleague at Remanzacco Observatory, Giovanni Sostero.
Giovanni suffered a heart attack last weekend, and is now in intensive care in
hospital, after having surgery.

I hope that you will all join us in wishing him a speedy recovery, as our
community is a better place with people of his calibre among us.

Ernesto is in contact with Giovanni's family and is passing on the thoughts and
prayers of everyone.

Nick Howes and Ernesto Guido