Travelogue Kennedy Space Center: The billionaires’ space race to Mars

SpaceX building at Cape Canaveral

Imagine in 40 years time booking a 14 day holiday on Amazon Prime to hike the craters of the moon. Or a tourist  world voyage to Mars.

Visiting the Kennedy Space Center on a huge nature reserve on North  Merritt Island this year is not  just awesome  but at an extraordinary time in its history.The Florida site is not only where NASA does its top level research as well as showcasing its past achievements  it is now the place where the world’s richest men are competing with each other to launch into space.

 If you ever wondered where the huge profits of international capitalist companies are going, most of the money they have made is being spent here. They are gambling on a new lucrative tourist business that will be worth billions in the future. And they are changing the face of Cape Canaveral. Dotted among the state owned space facilities are brand new space centres owned by private individuals and companies each competing with each other to build rockets , space capsules and launch sites . The only one missing is billionare Richard Branson whose Virgin Galatic company is based elsewhere.

Thus you have Elon Musk, worth $37.7billion, and owner of Tesla electric cars ,with SpaceX, planning with his Falcon rocket to take US astronauts to the space station and then planning to go to the Moon and beyond. He is competing with the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos, worth $125.3 billion and owner of Amazon whose Blue Origen company wants to go to the Moon. And you have Boeing with a base here who want to expand from building aircraft to spacecraft.

And what is also interesting is that the Space centre itself has the Journey to Mars centre where enthusiastic scientists are openly aiming to recruit the next generation to work on their space programme to “solve the impossible ” for the Mars mission.

The talk aimed at today’s ten year olds is premised that if you follow the history of the development of flight within 40 years what could be accomplished by a few pioneers will become commonplace for commercial services for tourists. Hence the interest in the commercialisation of space.

On the  cruise ship one of the most interesting lectures came from a NASA scientist who explained some of the pioneering work being done to aid the space project.Dr Lawrence Kutznetz showed that the breadth of research was spilling over into fields that could help the   disabled , aid medical research,and go the limits of technology.One worldwide research project involves designing a light weight spacesuit from scratch which will be essential if anyone wants to roam around Mars. Unlike the Moon Martian Gravity is similar to Earth’s and no human could walk more the few yards without collapsing under the weight of what they have to carry to stay alive. So using the Internet, peer reviewed research  is designing new materials, sealing the helmet from the rest of the body and allowing the rest of the suit to leak

Another project has very recently discovered by mistake that a particular drug when used on elderly mice caused cells covering its whole body to regenerate turning the equivalent of a 60 year old mouse to having the energy of an adolescent.

Scientists are not quite clear how this happened. The implications of this last experiment I can imagine will be very interesting for our wealthy billionaires funding the space programme – imagine being able to live until you are 150 – double the present lifespan.Or imagine Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch being offered a double lifespan.Perhaps not.

Other experiments have discovered that if you link two people’s brains using non evasive electrodes it is possible by thought alone to  operate another person’s artificial hand.

So not only is the space centre an exciting place to visit but some of the research going on there is in the realm of science fiction.

Saturn 5 rocket

Travelogue Bermuda: A country inspiring Shakespeare and Mark Twain but mired by a racist past

It is one of the more curious facts  revealed by Bermuda’s national museum. Bermuda may be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Seafarers tales told in Southwark taverns at the turn of the seventeenth century are thought to have inspired the playwright to create a story about a magical island.

Bermuda is named after an Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez who sailed past them in 1503 but never claimed them. It was a British ship the Sea Venture en route to Virginia which hit a storm- just like the Queen Victoria on this trip – but in this case was wrecked off the island in 1609 that led to the country becoming a British colony. But unlike other islands it was uninhabited and the sailors believed that just like in the Tempest that it was haunted by spirits and couldn’t wait to build new ships to get off it. Only three years later was it settled.

The history of the island is outlined in an eclectic collection of artefacts housed in a former British Royal Navy commissioner’s nineteenth  century mansion overlooking the Dockyard abandoned by the British in 1951. The mansion remained derelict for 20 years until restored by the Bermuda government.It is worth a visit see picture above.

The museum tells a warts and all history of the island, its role in two world wars, the development of tourism, its racist and slave ridden past and the rush to recover sunken treasure  from the numerous ships wrecked on the rocks . It also houses in the old keep ponds a conservation project to save dolphins.It has an extraordinary mural t

Depicting the island’s history by a contemporary artist covering a whole stairwell.

It is silent on the role of Britain’s abdicated monarch Edward Windsor who became governor to be kept out of the way and on the tax haven status of the self governing  territory which is its real other main income.

The story of the island’s racist and slave past is graphic. At first there was little racism but the rise of the slave trade in the eighteenth century lead to the removal of rights and restrictions put on the Portuguese who settled there from the Azores . Slavery was abolished in 1834 but attitudes remained. As late as the 1960s the now closed Bermuda Railway had an apartheid system reserving the best seats for whites. The Portuguese settlers ,mainly farmers,were barred from taking some top professional jobs until as late as the 1980s.

Tourism attracts more Americans than Brits with the island being originally popularised by US author Mark Twain who raved about it. The development of air travel, low income taxes and the American connection fostered by new bases set up in the Second World War to fight the German U boat menace, made it a big destination for US tourists. Wealthy Hollywood film stars moved there. So although officially British it is far more American and celeb orientated.

Mind you if history repeats itself it could end up as a new home for Prince Harry and Meghan who have abdicated their Royal roles. Any vacancy coming up soon for the governship of Bermuda?

On Byline Times: The Cabinet Office, a rushed controversial contract and a revamp of how you will get the right to vote

Cabinet Office building in Whitehall Pic credit: gov.uk

I have put up tonight a very interesting story on Byline Times about a rushed award of a £1.7m contract without competitive tendering to Idox, an electoral management software company, which will change the canvassing system to get you on the electoral register next year and mean sharing data on you held by the Department of Work and Pensions. Read it here.

Big pay out for 3.8 million 50swomen will never happen – Tim Loughton MP

Tim Loughton MP

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s State Pension Inequalities is to be revived and will try and persuade the Tory government to make a offer to the 50swomen.

Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for Worthing East and Shoreham, used his response to the Queen’s Speech, to say both he and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea, East will approach ministers again to try and get some money. Mr Loughton was returned with an increased majority while Carolyn Harris saw her majority severely reduced.

If the deal is anything like the last one it is likely to cost some £2 billion and probably only cover a small portion of the women who may get £73 a week. Before the election Mr Loughton said as a condition BackTo60 would have to drop its legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions, according to the Daily Express.

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Tim Loughton’s appeal before the election

He used his latest speech to attack Labour for offering to spend £58 billion over five years to remedy the situation describing it as having ” disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women. “

This is the full extract of his speech on the issue:

“It is an issue that featured rather disgracefully during the election campaign, and it is that of the so-called WASPI women.

Many on this side and, of course, on the other side have championed the case of the 1950s pension women who were hit disproportionately by those changes in the pension age under previous Governments. Many of us have been lobbying the Government to acknowledge that disproportionate disadvantage and to do something about it.

I will call on the Government again and, working with my co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, we will continue to put pressure on the Government to acknowledge that and do something about it.

The Labour Opposition’s uncosted promise of £58 billion, which did not appear in their manifesto, disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women.

That amount was almost half the NHS budget, and it was never going to happen. I do hope that we can come up with a realistic, deliverable, doable offer for those women who have suffered and are suffering disproportionately, because that is the right thing to do. “

His speech cut no ice with BackTo60. They are to continue pressing ahead with their application for an appeal in the New Year to get full restitution for the women with the support of the trade unions.

Unison, the largest public service union, are donating £700 to the cause on top of the £80,000 already raised.

Meanwhile I expect some more lobbying from Connect Public Affairs and Waspi to press for a reduced deal. Below is an example sent to me of an earlier lobbying campaign captured in Portcullis House in the House of Commons.