Life on Mars
The planned manned mission to Mars may well begin in Scotland.
Ten years from now, the first manned mission to Mars is due to take off. By the time it arrives at Mars, the candidates are going to be at least 11 years older than they are now, so I imagine that the 45-year-old Irishman who hopes to be shortlisted for the trip will be accepted only if one of the mission objectives involves an autopsy.
There are a number of British hopefuls who will soon be entering the pre-selection training programme. Life on Mars will not be dissimilar to living in a bungalow at Gedney Drove End (yes, it’s a real place in Lincolnshire, on the very edge of the Wash): featureless landscape, no bus service and nothing to do in the evenings. But the real test will be the journey; and in order to acclimatise our budding Martians to a long and tiresome trip in a cramped and boring little box, they will each be given a Kia Picanto and instructed to drive backwards and forwards along the A303 on a bank holiday.
Because both Mars and Earth describe elliptical orbits, there are only narrow windows of opportunity during which the mission may be launched, and necessary physical parameters for the launch site – cold and remote – have led to a suggestion that northern Scotland may prove ideal.
During his tenure as London’s mayor, Boris Johnson is said to have considered plans for a grand send-off from London where the Mars astronauts would board a sleeper train to Inverness for the first part of their epic journey. Unfortunately, he had not thought this through. October may be the optimum month for the launch but it’s also the peak month for leaves on the line – in particular on those stretches where the gradient is steeper than average. Imagine it now – 20 minutes up the line near Watford Junction and the train begins to lose traction. The driver gets on his radio to the London signalling centre: “Euston, we have a problem!”