Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fly me to the moon

For wannabie space cadets who have been so far greatly let down by NASA's failure to sent them into orbit, the private sector is coming to save them from abject misery. In early August, an American company called Space Adventures said they would be able to organise a private trip to the Moon for two people. The catch is that they'll need $200m to do it. Oh, and you don't get to land but you can take pictures out of the window.

It sounds like a vast amount of money but $200m it isn't possible to launch a single shuttle. Space Adventures has figured out what has eluded the US Federal government for more than four decades: that space needn't be so goddam expensive. Trouble is, $100m a ticket is still a lot of cash for one person.

Holidays around the moon, August 11th 2005
Got $100m? Then an American firm can fly you to the moon

Friday, August 05, 2005

How to catch the flu

Worries continue over the spread of bird flu around the world. Two newly published research studies suggest that if an outbreak of human influenza were to occur, that it could be eliminated completely if the area was targeted with antiviral drugs. The article and editorial argued that a global stockpile of drugs was a very worthwhile idea. Even if the attempt to eliminate the outbreak were to fail, any serious attempt at it could well delay the wider spread of such an outbreak and buy governments a little time to ramp up the production of vaccines and to put flu preparedness plans into operation. Sadly, very few governments actually have these in place.

Article: Containing a pandemic, Aug 4th 2005

Editorial: Catching the flu, Aug 4th 2005
(This article requires an Economist subscription)

The trials and tribulations of the shuttle

I’m never normally short of a word or two to say on the subject of the shuttle. Before the recent launch of Discovery, I reminded Economist readers why the shuttle was an ancient and unreliable vehicle that had to go. It seemed timely to explain that the only thing really keeping the shuttle programme going is the desire to complete as much as possible of the space station—which is literally a pointless waste of space.

Winging it, Jul 14th 2005
The shuttle is soon to return America to human space flight. But it must be grounded

In August, as Discovery was finally launched to the sound of debris popping off the shuttle’s external tank. There was intense media interest in the story—far too much in my opinion. The normally brilliant New York Times leading the pack with an exhausting, and exhaustive, blow-by-blow account of the mission in which no factoid was too trivial to be unearthed and speculated on at great length.

But every outlet was to blame. To “oohs” and “aahs” from a gasping audience of millions we were regaled with the minutiae of a shuttle trip thrown into stark relief because we were all given the impression of imminent danger. It was news as theatre at its very best. What is wrong with this was that after the launch it was clear that it was the safest in years as the debris shedding that caused the crash of Columbia had been greatly reduced. The other big change was that the shuttle was bristling with monitors and was photographed and filmed intensely througout its flight. We all were given plenty of graphic images to fret about.

So it pains me greatly to admit that I too joined the throng of those contributing to the excess of column drama inches with an excessively long piece about the details of Discovery’s flight. It was written under protest. I may have thought that there was nothing of interest to write about the shuttle that week, but I was firmly reminded that this was news.

But the only reason it was news was because we wrote about it all so much. Sigh.

Onwards and downwards, Aug 4th 2005
A near miss for the shuttle and red faces at NASA