Snow at 23,000 feet

Snow and ice brought much of UK traffic to a standstill today. I flew back home from Edinburgh late afternoon just as the worst of the weather started. Managed to press my trusty P900 up against the window to grab this shot just south of Edinburgh. Shortly after landing at Birmingham International Airport they temporarily closed the runway. I’ve flown a great many times but today was just a little bit scary. Complete white out until almost on the tarmac then ploughing though the slush on the runway it did cross my mind that we wouldn’t be able to stop! Anyway, after a 5 hour drive for the 15 or so miles between the airport and home I finally made it back in one piece. It’s below zero tonight so the roads will be just great tomorrow.


Remembering Russia’s Venera probes

With all the recent excitement about Mars many people will be surprised to know that Russia has successfully landed 10 probes, yes 10, on the surface of Venus between 1975 and 1981. All ‘Venera’ probes survived the landing and four of them transmitted pictures back to Earth. That’s an astonishing achievement given a) this was 25 years ago and the Russians didn’t have the benefit of bouncing airbag technology and b) the surface of Venus is hotter than your oven with an atmospheric pressure 90 times greater than that on Earth. Oh, and the atmosphere contains substantial amounts of sulphuric acid and other goodies. The probes themselves survived no more than an hour before being fried, crushed and corroded into oblivion.

Some of the pictures taken by the Venera 9 & 10 probes have been dusted off, reprocessed and re-calibrated. And they are every bit as stunning in their own way as those from Mars. All told this was a terrific achievement for the Russian Space Agency.


Justifying the cost of space travel

The BBC has conducted a vox pop survey on whether the cost of the recent (and future) Mars expeditions can be justified. Not surprisingly opinion is mixed and split between ‘man as inquisitive explorers learning how the universe works’ to ‘we should instead use the money to cure cancer and prevent 3rd world starvation’. As I’vesaid before this is not an either/or situation, and as a couple of respondents in the BBC poll suggested, in the grand scheme of state funding space exploration costs far less than many earthly pursuits (e.g military funding, treating people with smoking-related illness, treating obesity, to name but three). I think it’s also too simplistic to suggest that there’s hunger in the world and no cure for cancer (and the rest of the alternative suggestions for how NASA money could be spent) as a result of lack of money.

Out of interest, I thought I’d do some basic fact-finding to put things into perspective:

People, you pays your money you takes your choice.