Space travel takes real courage but is important!

It’s not been the best of weeks for space travel! It goes without saying that the saddest news was the crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo with the resultant death of the co-pilot Michael Alsbury, and the serious injuries to the pilot Peter Siebold. I suspect it’s going to put back Richard Branson and the Virgin Galactic team’s goals of regular suborbital space flights by several years! Then earlier in the week there was the failed launch of the Antares rocket heading to resupply the International Space Station. Thankfully this time there were no injuries, though you’ve got to assume that somebody’s wallet will be hurting and I don’t know what the impact is on those up in the ISS?

Salyut 7 from Soyuz T-13
Salyut 7 from Soyuz T-13 –

However, the above two incidents were not the initial reason for this post. Instead I happened upon the following remarkable article about a madcap Soviet mission to rescue a space station and it got me thinking. Take a few minutes to read it, and then consider just how courageous those cosmonauts were, along with the reality of space travel and heading out into an environment that only wants to kill you in an almost Heath-Robinson-esque tin can!

Another article this week that also got me thinking was this one about the likely need for us to grow the role of insects in our diet given the fact that our ability to feed the Earth’s growing population is going to come under ever increasing pressure.

And then chatting to my bro-in-law yesterday about the above topics along with the post I made a while back about our galactic importance, he made the important point that in many ways that our being a spacefaring species is likely to become increasingly important to deal with our population growth. So when insect burgers prove not to be enough, the requirement to find new lands or indeed new planets for us populate will become a necessity. Thus as much as people bemoan the cost and risk of space travel, the cojones of those who do push the boundaries of space mustn’t be forgotten and we should be grateful for the future of humankind that some people still want to boldy push onwards. It seems that being a slightly maverick billionaire (them not me) helps with that drive, since in addition to Branson, just so happens that Elon Musk has been talking up planetary exploration again recently too, so maybe just within my lifetime (which is another topic for another day) …

Urgghhh … it’s a think piece on the importance of humanity

Fear not, I don’t normally post such things, and typically just bore people with reviews of music that most will hate and pictures of brutalist buildings that many dislike, but here’s a think piece! Furthermore it’s a think piece on what I consider one of my most fundamentally important ideals!

Just ask Mrs ® Andy or my boys, and they’ll tell you that I’m always going on about how humanity is the most important thing we’ve got and how we mustn’t ever forget that! When too many around the world are trying to kill each other for believing in different imaginary friends, or others are finding humour in suffering and consider grisly pictures of awful deaths funny, or people are complaining about how we shouldn’t be spending money trying to save other people around the world based on some view that they’re not as important as “our own”, I feel so sad! We all need to understand the value of humanity (in both its collective and qualitative senses) and look after it so much better! Overall an ageing hippy message of being nice to each other, and looking after each other, and trying to make things better, and living life in positive terms, rather than considering life such a low value disposable thing!

In filmic terms, ironically the only time humanity pull together and act as one team is when we’re threatened by some alien invading force, which made some comments from pop-star-Physicist Brian Cox resonate even more today. Now despite being a Physicist myself, albeit not a pop-star one, I only caught a few minutes in passing of Brian’s latest episode of Human Universe since I tend not to watch such things, but what I did see was him reasoning on the number of Earth-like planets in the galaxy as part of considering the existence of alien life (to invade us natch). I didn’t see where his reasoning got to, but did instead read an interview with him today on one of my favourite sites, VICE. It wouldn’t be a VICE article without the obligatory drug related questions, but amongst the more profound questions Brian’s responses resonated very strongly with me. In particular …

You suggest in the series that we’re alone in our galaxy – that we’re the only intelligent, space-faring civilisation alive right now.
When I was young I always wanted to meet aliens. But now, if you ask, “Where does the evidence point at the moment?” Then it seems like civilisations may be extremely rare, and that we are the only one alive right now in our galaxy. I find that thought terrifying.

I find it slightly depressing as well. So what does that mean for us as a society?
If we begin to suspect that we are very, very rare indeed, then we are very, very lucky. So we should start behaving differently. We should look after ourselves better than we do, because right now, we as a species don’t have a particularly universal perspective on our own existence. I think we’re rather myopic usually.

So not only is humanity the most important thing we’ve got, but it’s important at a galactic scale, and maybe even at a universal scale! Well maybe not at a universal scale, since everything invariable tends to zero amongst 350 billion galaxies, but the idea that amongst the 300 billion stars in our galaxy we might be the only civilisation alive at the moment does make us really rather special and important! An endangered species at galactic scale! Hence, rather than waiting for that alien invasion to occur (which it won’t because even at galactic scale everything is freaking impossible distances away and furthermore getting further away at an ever increasing rate that even light can’t keep up with) why don’t we start valuing humanity now and as both Brian and I say, start looking after all of ourselves and each other better!?

Hardly groundbreaking but …

The other day a colleague mentioned SouthWestTrains had finally made good on their promise of free wifi, since he now had wifi on his train up from Bournemouth. This morning I turned on my phone’s tethering for my journey to town, but was excited to see something else pop up on the available networks list too.


It’s probably a mixed blessing! The totally appalling Vodafone signal up the mainline from Southampton to Waterloo has at times been frustrating, but also regularly a great reason to go off the net. Conference calls cannot be held and I don’t even bother trying to answer inbound calls. I’d crack on with things that required me to single task. However, of course there are times when reliable internet access was sorely missed … though invariable not for work reasons.

Overall good free wifi access on the train will make a huge difference to my regular train experience. Probably should do some work now …