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Marking 51 years of manned spaceflight

Cosm marks Gagarin's historic voyage

(and travels back in time to 1961... sort of)

Fifty One years ago today, an unknown Russian cosmonaut climbed into a rocket, left the planet and became the first human to travel into space – 108 minutes later, he returned as a national hero of Soviet Russia and an international celebrity.

To mark this historic occasion, I sent Cosm back in time to see how it might have looked in 1961 (with the added benefit of hindsight). So click on the images below to read Cosm (circa 1961) – Amazing science news from the Future!

Galileo, Galileo (can you do the fandango?)

Some of us use them to stalk our friends, others to find a restaurant and some use them as an excuse to disregard the evidence of their eyes and drive blindly into reservoirs, but, in one way or another, we all make use of satellite navigation. 

Since the dawn of the sat nav era in the early 1990s, we have been reliant upon the American’s to provide our little magical boxes with the satellites it needs to guide us where we want to go. In fact so reliant are we on the American system that the term GPS has become as synonymous with sat nav as the Hoover is to vacuuming and the Sinclair C5 is to daft ideas.

As Europeans (and Brits in particular) we don’t like to be too reliant on any service provided by one of our former colonies, so plans are afoot to wean our devices away from the American system and replace it with a new European system – Galileo.

Swift Mercury gives up its secrets

When ancient astronomers observed the tiny planet that lives on the doorstep of the Sun, they saw how quickly it seemed to shoot across the heavens. So the Romans named it after the god Mercury – the speedy, winged sandal-wearing messenger. When the scientists of the 21st century decided to send the first spacecraft to orbit around Mercury, they saw no reason to break the tradition so they named the craft Messenger.

The mission was launched in 2008 and, since moving into orbit a little over a year ago, the spacecraft has captured nearly 100,000 images and revealed new information about Mercury, which, even thousands of years since its discovery, has always been one of the least understood planets in our
solar system.

Engage Warp Drive (destroy everything)

In theory, Star Trek-style warp drives are possible – but they could come with a bit of a downside. Illustration: Ben Gilliland

In the 20th and 21st centuries, when people wanted to traverse the country in comfort and style they took their trusty VW Camper van. Powered by a 1.6-litre air-cooled engine, the vehicle transported its occupants from London to Cornwall in a matter of hours. But, by the 23rd century, travellers were no longer content with pasties and cream teas – and they were aiming for the stars.

They soon realised the VW’s trusty petrol engine wasn’t up to the job (it would take millions of years just to reach the nearest star) so someone invented the ‘warp drive’, fitted it to their VW, and the ‘interstellar’ camper van was born.

We are all familiar with Star Trek’s version of the space-cruising camper, the USS Enterprise, that allows Kirk and Spock to zip between stars, but surely warp-driven VWs are the stuff of science fiction?

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.

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