Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The space race is over...

Lego space shuttle, Billund, DenmarkIf you happen to be in Legoland any time soon (and I'm talking about the one in Denmark here, though it may also apply to others), see if you can find their recreation of the Kennedy Space Center in Miniland. You'll have to have a good look, as it's tucked away in a corner, in a little footpath cul-de-sac no less - literally a dead end. When I took this photograph, on a day when the park as a whole was rammed, I was the only person there.

All of which made me a bit sad. The space shuttle is history now, and the kids of today are just not as interested as I was when, in 1981, I sat glued to the television watching STS-1 launch into space for the first time (there's a nice video here if you want to remind yourself what the shuttle looked like when they still painted the big liquid oxygen tank in the middle, instead of leaving it orange). I watched again, a couple of days later, on the edge of my seat, as it landed. For me, a child born the year after Apollo 11 and all that, this felt like my space race moment, an event so meaningful, so significant, that in years to come I would describe watching it to my children and grandchildren. Here it was - the dawn of a new era: a re-usable space craft! A space ship landing like an aeroplane! The future had arrived!

Except it didn't really turn out like that, did it? The shuttles are now nothing more than historic artefacts, mothballed and museumed, as relevant to today's eleven-year-olds as Kitty Hawk would have been to me in 1981. Today's satellites and ISS deliveries are made by conventional rocket. What was once the preserve of NASA is increasingly contracted out to commercial companies. I can't imagine there are too many countries, India and China aside, who are increasing their state-funded space programmes. The space race, it seems, is really over.

Imagine my delight, then, on discovering that an old school friend of mine has patented a new take on the old idea of a space elevator. Maybe that's the future, now. Maybe, just maybe, instead of flying up, we'll take the lift?


  1. It's inflatable? I wouldn't want to be the one in charge of the foot pump.

    1. Don't worry, he's got one of those 1970s camping ones that plug into a car cigarette lighter...