Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
Broadband from £5.99 a month with an included wireless router when you sign up to Plusnet - terms apply

Monday 19 September 2011

Let's go to hell in a spaceship.

MONDAYS are depressing for most of us, today as much as any other.

Not least because on Mondays you feel like nothing changes. It's the same as every other Monday there has ever been or ever will be. If there is a hell, and if Time exists there, you can guarantee it will be 3pm on a Monday for eternity.

Today I can report some people who didn't want to live in a permanent home in any one place are, ironically, using bricks and mortar to build blockades to stop bailiffs who want to move them on from a place they've lived in for years. The people who are evicting them are doing it even though some (not all) of the evictees have nowhere else to go. Neither side has really been following the planning rules, and each claim they're in the right.

At the Lib Dem conference the nation's third political party is committing electoral suicide in the same way it has on an annual basis ever since it was founded in 1988. Pretty much everything every party worker has said so far is a guaranteed vote-loser, which I suppose makes a change from their MPs losing them votes by speeding, cheating, fiddling and turning their backs on everything they said before the election. Dishface is probably rubbing his hands with glee.

Meanwhile 13.5million people in this country are rubbing their hands just to keep warm. That is the number of people in Britain who are officially 'poor', because the cost of the basic standard of living has jumped 20 per cent in the past year. And what's Dishface doing about it? Why, he's going to New York to launch a business and tourism and campaign which will say Britain is GREAT, in big capital letters.

In other news, a rugby player has been an idiot, a Royal marriage has hit its first skid, and people are complaining that four miners killed in a pit accident in Wales didn't get the same coverage. Had those miners been alive they would have done - but human beings don't buy newspapers with dead people on the front. If newspapers don't sell, they close. If you don't like the way that equation works you will need to rewrite human DNA, and I wish you the best of luck with it.

On days like this it seems like humanity never changes, except for the worst.

But in fact the most remarkable thing humans have ever achieved goes whizzing right over your head. 

The International Space Station was launched eleven years ago and despite involving people who are enemies on Earth has not yet (we are led to believe) seen a single fight. No-one who's on it gives a damn about Spooks or Downton Abbey or gives much of a toss about the Lib Dems.

The space programme is insanely expensive, which in these straitened times means the shuttle has been grounded and a trip to the moon cancelled. NASA is hoping to get a manned mission to Mars within 30 years, but presumably they're going to have to find an even better iPhone buried there to convince anyone the trip's worthwhile.

Yet since space exploration began these things have changed as a direct result: liquid-cooled spacesuits have been adapted to help patients with burning limb syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries and sports injuries; most homes have a smoke detector, first designed for Skylab in the 1970s; hundreds of firefighters' lives have been saved by new breathing apparatus; the design of NASA’s space shuttle main engine fuel pumps was used to create an artificial ventricle for heart patients; methods of enhancing computer images of the moon in the 1960s were used to create CAT scans and MRI imagery to diagnose disease and injury; every SatNav device uses GPS tracking from satellites; and a NASA fluid physicist hit on a way to diagnose cataracts early.

Techniques developed to protect metal from atomic oxygen in space have been used to save artworks which no known restoration method could have helped, and imaging developed to study the surface of Mars was used on documents from the ruins of Pompeii which revealed lines that had been unseen for centuries.

Yes, you could argue human beings should have come up with all that stuff anyway. But the space programme provided a catalyst for us to strive for things we didn't understand, and the benefits are amazing. There are a dozen different ways in which space travel made it possible for Rital and Ritag Gaboura, twins born with their skulls fused together, to have successful surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital which they could never have hoped to have at home in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Things do change, all the time. It's just that for most of us we are not unlucky enough to notice it.

The ISS is next over the UK at about 6.30am on Friday. It's a whizzing light in the sky, moving at 17,500mph. If you get a chance, look up at it and be proud of us.