What has space travel ever done for us?

This first appeared in December 2014 on BSK’s website, which is sadly no longer accessible.

Why we should celebrate the landing of the Philae probe on Comet 67P


ROLIS descent image: Copyright ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR 9

It seems incongruous in a time of austerity, that government money should be spent on something which took place literally a million miles away from us. Is it money well spent? The answer is a resounding yes, because at the heart of ESA’s Rosetta mission is the extraordinary talent of many innovative UK industries, engineers and scientists.

The UK Space sector is thriving and currently worth £11.3 billion to the UK economy. It employs 34,000 staff – 5000 of which were created in the last two years – and supports a further 72,000 in other sectors. 70% of its production is exported.

Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark said of the probe landing:

“This truly is a momentous day. The Rosetta mission is once again making history, this time by deploying a lander on the surface of the comet. We cannot underestimate just how much of a challenge and technical feat this has been to achieve. UK scientists, engineers and industry have played a central role in its success and will inspire a generation of children to become involved in science.”

Ian Wright, Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Open University and Principal Investigator for the Ptolemy discovery instrument embedded on Philae, added:

“Ptolemy represents British ingenuity at its best. The instrument was born out of a creative milieu that saw scientific enquiry meld with engineering capability to satisfy a burning desire to venture into the unknown. Landing on a comet is a first for space exploration.”

Funded by the UK Space Agency and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Rosetta mission and landing of Philae on Comet 67P was the culmination of a 10 year journey, driven by UK industry and science – you can read the full list of those involved here.

This week, NASA intends to launch Orion – a new craft designed to send humans farther than they’ve ever been before – so we took a quick look at the innovative ideas developed by industry in conjunction with NASA’s space programme, which resulted in products now in common use across the world.

  • Memory Foam
  • The Super Soaker
  • Invisible braces
  • Ear thermometers
  • Anti- corrosion coating
  • Cochlear implants
  • Scratch resistant lenses
  • Insulin pump
  • Water filters
  • Dustbuster
  • Freeze dried food

“Need is the mother of all invention” said Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan, and it’s heartening to know that, as both the human race and the planet face increased pressures, the brightest and best in the UK will be up for the challenge.

You can keep up to date with the UK Space programme on their blog here.

If you’re a business or entrepreneur who wants to make a difference, take a look at the Innovators Tool Kit for inspiration – yours could be the Next Big Thing!

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