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    Astronaut touches down in Swiss Cottage

    By Oli Usher, on 10 October 2014

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    NASA Administrator Charles Bolden visits UCL Academy

    Charlie Bolden was born in the deep south of the US, during the days of segregation and institutionalised racism. Despite this inauspicious start in life, he went on to a high-flying military career, commanded the Space Shuttle, spent 28 days in orbit and, in 2009, was made head of NASA by President Obama. He is the first African American to hold the position.

    During a trip to the UK to meet senior officials in the UK and Italian space agencies, Bolden dropped into the UCL Academy for a few hours to talk to the students and teachers there. The visit was organised by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL.

    He started off with a conventional inspirational speech, full of quotable soundbites – “study hard, work hard, don’t be afraid of failure” – as well as first-hand anecdotes from the four Space Shuttle missions he flew on. (Most memorably, he went on a long and highly entertaining digression about Newton’s laws of motion, and how in microgravity you need to be attached to a computer keyboard if you want to avoid launching yourself across the cabin when you type.)

    As he went on, and the students gradually became more and more enthused, more and more hands shot up in the audience.

    A quarter of an hour in, any pretence of this being a lecture was off. Instead, it had become a wide-ranging conversation covering everything from what happens if someone falls ill in space (there is someone with basic surgical training on every mission) to whether or not there is wi-fi on the International Space Station (there is).

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    The future of Europe’s missions in space: small steps or giant leaps?

    By Oli Usher, on 2 February 2014

    Serge Plattard, an international space policy expert recently appointed as honorary professor at UCL, gave a whirlwind tour of the politics of space in his inaugural lecture on 22 January. Covering everything from human spaceflight to navigation systems, and launching from topic to topic faster than an Ariane 5 rocket, Plattard’s whole lecture is hard to summarise.

    But one fundamental truth ran through everything he said, including his talk’s title: space policy, economics and society are now all closely intertwined, and their mutual impact on each other is growing.

    Although we still think of space as part of the public sector, with NASA, the European Space Agency and their Russian and Chinese counterparts dominating much of the mindshare, the days of state domination of space are over, he said. The total world spend on space is now over $300bn per year, of which less than $80bn is spent by governments. Private broadcasting alone spending alone outspends every public space agency in the world, and so does the geolocation sector.

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    To boldly go: pushing the limits of human exploration

    By Clare S Ryan, on 26 October 2012

    Space shuttle Endeavour in the streets
    of Los Angeles en route to the California
    ScienCenter (from vpisteve on Flickr).

    Human exploration is big news. Felix Baumgartner recently made headlines around the world after becoming the first skydiver to fall faster than the speed of sound.

    It seems we are fascinated by people who push the limits of what is possible, and so I was unsurprised to have to squeeze into Dr Kevin Fong’s recent Lunch Hour Lecture, ‘To boldly go’.

    Dr Fong, who admits he has been at UCL “for-EVER”, studied both physics and medicine here and now leads a double life as a NASA scientist and a consultant anaesthetist at UCL Hospital.

    As a physicist and a physiologist, he is in an unusual position to tell the story of human exploration and how we have triumphed over not just geographical boundaries, but also the limits of the human body.

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    Is there liquid water on Mars?

    By Clare S Ryan, on 13 September 2011

    Since astronomers first glimpsed the surface of Mars through telescopes in the late 1900s, scientists have been fascinated by the idea that water – and along with it, the possibility of life – exists there. Dr Peter Grindrod (UCL Earth Sciences) gave this year’s Halstead Lecture at the British Science Festival to take the scientifically inclined on a whistle stop tour, complete with stunning images, of how our understanding of water on this mysterious planet has developed in the past 150 years.

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