July 2012 issue

Date:1 July 2012 Tags:, , ,

Exploring the final frontier

Two space-related developments deserve special mention this month, both of which will resonate with PM’s audience. Up first is the magnificent achievement by former South African Elon Musk and his SpaceX team, who made history by building and launching the first privately built spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Their Dragon capsule delivered supplies and equipment to the International Space Station and returned safely to Earth on 31 May, landing in the Pacific. As Nasa points out, the mission’s true impact will be seen in the coming months as the company sends regular re-supply missions to the orbiting outpost. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will launch astronauts into orbit in a few years’ time. Said an elated Musk, the founder, CEO and chief designer for California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX): “This was a crucial step, and makes the chances of becoming a multiplanet species more likely.”

Then there was the long-awaited announcement from the SKA Organisation, revealing that the world’s largest radio telescope project ““ the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) ““ would be split between Africa and Australia, with a major share of the telescope coming to this country. Although the decision was something of a compromise, it remains excellent news for the science community and the country as a whole. Why should this make you excited? Because the SKA is expected to answer some of the most fundamental questions in physics, astronomy and cosmology. If you’d like to know more, you are strongly urged to explore the SKA’s science objectives at www.skatelescope.org/the-science.

Finally, we report back on a PM reader trip that took us to the quaint Karoo village of Matjiesfontein and the SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) facility outside Sutherland; see the pictures on this page. We enjoyed it so much (the Laird’s Arms sing-along at Matjiesfontein was memorable for a number of reasons), and the feedback from our readers was so good, that we have every intention of following up with more tours that focus on the interests of our informationhungry ““ and undoubtedly fun-loving ““ audience.

– Alan Duggan aland@ramsaymedia.co.za

* Credit where due: The picture of climbers on Shelter Rock, featured in our article titled “Climbing the iron way” (May issue, page 73), was taken by Erwin Niemand.

Look out for the free 32-page DIY Booklet bagged with this month’s issue. (Your next step is to pick up a tool and actually do something useful.)