Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's a good news day!

I've just found out that I've secured my first research funding - a BAAS Postgraduate Short-Term Travel Award for 2010. It'll be in the £ hundreds not £ thousands - but seeing as I'm funding everything from net income at the moment, every little helps.

While I'm far from writing anything to do with the thesis, I'm beginning to think myself through what needs to happen much more clearly. It's progress: it's slow...but it's progress.

Anyway, with a bit of funding in place - and an application to the Eisenhower Foundation wining its way to the US, I can start planning this summer's research trip to the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Monday, 1 February 2010

Tumbling Constellations

The request by President Obama for Congress to squash NASA's Constellation programme - the return to the moon by 2020 - comes as no surprise in these financially straitened times. Congress may, of course, deny the President's request, since around 30,000 jobs are tied to the programme. However, the likelihood is that it could be many decades before any American sets foot on the moon again.

This saddens me. While never universal, the spirit of hope, excitement and willingness to battle technological challenges that spurred America to the moon in the 60s was magical. it briefly united the world in awe and wonder. Equally rapidly, the optimism vanished into the mire of Vietnam, civil unrest, Nixon's Watergate folly and a global oil crisis. The quest for technological supremacy has long gone. Indeed, the unique crystallisation of public, political and media will, underpinned by technological white heat that delivered Apollo has gone for ever. Spurred by the Cold War contest, the alignment of political ambition with engineering advancement which delivered the State-technocracy of the space programme from Mercury through Gemini to Apollo will never be repeated.

Does NASA have a future? Probably, but not as the sometimes bellicose, often defensive and always byzantine keeper of the manned spaceflight flame. Hopefully it will emerge as the catalyst for a new era: a commercial space race. But one wonders if it has the ability or even appetite for such as change?

Strangely, this loss of the frontier spirit in America may spur on a new generation of lunar explorers - what are the chances of a Chinese expedition to the moon in the next decade?

It's getting brutal out there

Not the greatest Monday so far.

I woke to two pieces of news on Radio Four's Today Programme: first, higher education spending is set to be slashed in the UK - never good news for a research student, especially one lacking in funding; and second, that in the US, President Obama aims to cut back NASA's budget to the point where its plans to revisit the moon must be in jeopardy. Neither piece of news was much good for my PhD - not least since part of the justification for the work was to provide an insight on how NASA/the Administration needs to act to ensure public support for a new moon race.

I suppose there are two ways to take such news: the first is to stick one's head in the sand and plough on as if nothing's happened. The second is to look at how I can raise the money to fund the next few years' necessary research trips. I've taken that second route.

I've started to mail out requests for sponsorship using my updated research outline to try and attract interest. I'm targeting firms that I've worked with in the past (rather than the supremely unsuccessful cold calls that have produced nothing to date).

I may hit another brick wall, but it at least feels that I'm doing something positive.

Anyway, staying on that positive note, I'm looking forward to speaking to NASA-turned-Smithsonian historian Roger Launius on Friday. He has the inside track that I've yet to reach and has been very generous in his time and interest in me to date. It'll be good to put a real person to the email contacts.