The Twentieth Planetary Congress

September 21, 2007

The Association of Space Explorers is in town – qualification for membership at least one orbit of the Earth. (I guess a round the world ticket on British Airways doesn’t count). So two days ago the astronauts, cosmonauts, and the tiny number of euro-nauts were dispersed about the Schools of Scotland giving inspirational talks. Then yesterday there was a public conference hosted by the University, with a whole bunch of interesting talks – about fire safety on spacecraft; about how to keep crew members fed all the way to Mars; about returning to the Moon; and about how space exploration has changed our attitude to Earth and its fragility.

It was a strange occasion for various reasons. Firstly, the audience was about one third each crumbling astronauts, university scientists, and high school kids, all sitting in different parts of the room. Secondly, my daughter was there, which I am not used to at scientific meetings. She made faces at me from across the auditorium anytime somebody said something vaguely rude about astronomers. Thirdly, it was all taking place in the famous Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. During the intervals, walking the corridors drinking tea, I felt I should be plotting against other factions, watching out for the ecclesiastical knife, and fretting about gay bishops and so on.

There was a talk about the NASA “return to the Moon” program, now called Constellation (not to be confused with Constellation-X, the big X-ray mission). I still can’t quite decide what I feel about money on the manned space program versus the unmanned science programme, but it depends on how you ask the question. If the question is “well, we got so much money for space stuff – do you wanna spend it on astronauts or on telescopes and space probes ?” then my answer is “telescopes please”. But if the question is “should we spend another billion or ten on bombing Iran, or should we train up some astronauts for going to the moon ?” then my answer is “why are you even asking ?”


January 14, 2007

Next week is a really busy one for me, involving several things I aim to talk about on this blog : Big Sky Surveys, the Virtual Observatory, Academic Bureaucracy, and Astro-Politics. First I need to do the actual work… then I will try to get down some thoughts.

First, I need to finish the revised version of my paper describing the UKIRT Infrared Sky Survey (UKIDSS). Its been on astro-ph for ages but if I don’t submit the revised version soon to MNRAS it turns into a pumpkin and I have to re-submit. Second up is AstroGrid planning meetings. We are entering the final year of the AstroGrid project, before formally launching an actual operational Virtual Observatory service. Third thing is a series of planning meetings with Physics Colleagues and College Office planning our submission to the Research Assessment Exercise. This is such a pain in the butt, but now that the Government are talking about changing it, we are all whingeing. Fourth thing is preparing for a meeting of the Astronet project in Poitiers, aimed at making a “strategic plan for European astronomy”. Wow. As usual with Euro-stuff, it could easily be either crucial or vacuous bilge. Will be letting you know …

By the way, if you google Astronet you get some astrology stuff for women. Gaaggghhh.

Meanwhile my teenage daughter is off to Space Camp in Houston, and is chatting up astronauts as I write. Apparently she might even meet legendary flight controller Gene Krantz. Wow.

Still haven’t seen Comet McNaught … but I note there is a post on Universe Today saying that you can see it in broad daylight if you use a nearby building as a coronagraph …