I was just a baby when Neil Armstrong took that one small step from the ladder of the Apollo 11 lunar lander to the surface of the Moon on 20 July 1969.
As a kid I often wondered about that giant leap for mankind, which was already starting to seem like something from a bygone era. Just picture how NASA’s Gene Cernan felt about being the last man on the Moon, the last human to set foot on another world. Finally, 50 years later, it feels like we’re back on track at last.
As we celebrate the anniversary of the first moon landing, a grand total of just 571 people have been into space. Why is this? Well, until recently space travel has been eye-wateringly expensive, with launches typically costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now, technical advances from companies including Virgin, SpaceX and Blue Origin are set to dramatically reduce the costs of getting people and things into space. How so? It’s simple, really: land the rocket and fly it again. Figuring out how took a while, though - SpaceX alone spent 13 years working on this.
Space is the place
While we can’t yet nip off for a weekend break in outer space, within the next decade we will start to see more and more people routinely living and working off-world.
This will have huge implications for research and innovation because we will need to work out how to build the infrastructure and the industries that will sustain human life in space and on other planets. And yes, one day the first students will attend lectures at the University of Mars.
Let’s not underestimate what all this means, though. Everything we take for granted on Earth will ultimately have to be created from scratch on other worlds. From food and drinking water to power generation and creating an interplanetary internet that the colonists and their robots can use to communicate.
Picture an asteroid-belt mining habitat, a Lunar hotel (dare you risk a night on the dark side?), a Martian colony. Somewhere off-planet, a seed is germinating, a shoot is growing, a leaf is forming - and a plant is starting to grow…
Research that’s out of this world
This might all seem like something that happens somewhere else, to someone else, but the UK is actually a world leader in space – we just don’t like to shout about it. We made around 40% of the small satellites in Earth orbit right now, and will soon be launching them into space ourselves as Virgin Orbit begins operations at Spaceport Cornwall in 2020. Whoosh!
At Jisc, where we’re delighted to be supporting the UK’s space innovation community through key digital infrastructure, such as the national research and education network, Janet, and our eduroam wireless roaming. Space is in our DNA, with our Janet team based at Harwell Campus, home of RAL Space and the European Space Agency. Janet also connects key UK space sites such as the Goonhilly earth station.
It may be a while before we have interplanetary Janet up and running, but I was delighted that, in a world-first, we were able to demonstrate eduroam over 5G to the University of West London’s vice-chancellor this week.
The services we run and the support we provide are constantly evolving to meet the needs of our further and higher education members and customers, and to keep abreast of new technological developments – from 5G to artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality to the quantum internet.
How could new technologies such as artificial intelligence and mixed reality transform research? We’d love to hear from you – take our edtech challenge, and we’ll work with the winners to bring their ideas to life (closing date 31 July 2019).