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A brief(ish) history of rockets. Part 2.

I have a new feature over at A Brief History of Rocketry. Part 2: From World War to the Moon and Beyond.

It recounts the extraordinary advances that the science of rocketry made in the 20th century. From Robert Goddard's first liquid-fuelled rocket to Wernher von Braun's infamous V-2 – and the collosal rockets they fathered. It is a fascinating journey through the last 100 years of rocketry that culminates with the new age of space privateers.

Head on over to to have a read...

.... go on then. What are you dithering for?

Bloodhound SSC: The 1,000mph speed freak

Just one big graphic today folks... with extra bits I couldn't squeeze into the newspaper.

Pioneer 10: The mission that opened the final frontier

Until 40 years ago, the farthest any man-made object had ventured into space was Mars and many scientists believed that this might be as far as we could ever go.

Beyond Mars, there lay an impenetrable 180million km-wide barrier made up of colossal rocks, barreling through space and tens of thousands of kilometres per hour – the asteroid belt – and any craft that ventured into it would be doomed. At least that was the theory.

Then, forty years ago this month, Nasa put the theory to the test. Launched on March 2, 1972, Pioneer 10 left Earth on a mission to study Jupiter. To reach it, it would have to traverse the asteroid belt.

On the origin of the faeces

An archaeological who dung it?...

Anyone who has ever taken the time to examine their poo (probably more men than women) can tell you that what we eat can have profound effect on its quality. There is the excruciating “half-chewed peanut” poo, the glorious “you won’t be needing much toilet paper” poo and tedious “eternal wipe” poo (this usually follows a bad kebab, or great curry).

As a layman, we can all marvel in humanity’s faecal variety, but it might surprise you that, in recent years, archaeologists have been developing a bit of an excrement obsession.

It turns out that we can learn a lot about our ancestors from their toilet deposits. Civilisations come and go and cultures rise and fall but humans have always pooed. Sanitation services that remove bottom garbage from the environment are a relatively recent invention so, for most of human history, poo remained where it was deposited.

Testing testing...

Last week, an old friend suggested we should make a Cosm podcast. So we did.

We have called it the Cosm Science Ramble – because that is what it is. Just two blokes rambling on about science.

This one was recorded as a tester. No planning or forethought went into it. It wasn't meant to heard by anyone (ever) but we thought it was fun so decided to share it.

The more observant amongst you might notice what seems to be "dead air" for a few seconds at about 7 minutes. I'd like to say that we inserted this gap to allow time for reflection and contemplation... but I'd be lying (sorry).

Future editions will be (slightly) better planned and have more facts and stuff (hopefully). We will also try to move to a proper place in the iTunes podcast world.

If you can't stay glued to the pointless video image or use flash, you can listen to the mp3 here (if you right-click and save as, you can download it too)

If you hate (or love) it let me know – it will have a bearing on whether we do any more. If you are apathetic about it, then just sigh, shake your head and move along...

Thar she blows!

Nasa goes all Ahab and plans to harpoon a comet

Man has always hunted. Even before prehistory ditched the ‘pre’ part of its name and became just history, man has used harpoons to make the hunt easier – especially when there was water involved.

Before history even considered dropping its prefix, hunters used long sharp pointy things to spear fish. But sometimes the fish slipped off the end. Then some bright spark had the idea of putting a barbed end on the sharp pointy thing and the harpoon was born.

For centuries, the harpoon was the weapon of choice for hunting at sea but, lately, it has fallen out of vogue.

Nasa are planning to rehabilitate the harpoon but, instead of hunting whales at sea, they will be hunting comets in space.

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