back to article It is 50 years since Blighty began a homegrown and all-too-brief foray into space

Join us tonight in raising a toast to the 50th anniversary of the first successful launch of the Black Arrow, the UK's brief foray into orbital rocketry. The second of four Black Arrow launches, the lift-off of R1 from the Woomera range in Australia marked the first time the rocket's first and second stages succeeded in a sub- …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    To Infini

    That's about the limit for British governments supporting science.

    Generally they talk a lot about the importance of leading the world in various disciplines and then do nothing.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: To Infini

      I wonder if a dig around in the archives would find some left pondian pressure was involved. Stranger things have happened.

      1. CliveS

        Re: To Infini

        >...some left pondian pressure...

        The only Left Pondian involvement was an offer - prior to cancellation - from NASA to launch British payloads for free. An offer withdrawn after cancellation. It may have had an impact on the cancellation, but on the whole, I doubt it. Black Arrow's payload to orbit was insufficient for any communications satellites, and commercial applications at the time were virtually non-existent. The RAE had only one further payload planned after Prospero, so Black Arrow would never have had an economic launch cadence. And even buying launches using the US Scout rocket would have been cheaper. So the only justifications at the time were purely chauvinistic, for national pride. R0's failure was acceptable, but the subsequent R2 launch failure also added pressure to cancel. Industry was consulted and their feedback would inform the final decision.

        It's worth tracking down the Penney Report (author William Penney was part of the Tube Alloys team, and leader of the British delegation to the Manhattan Project) which is very detailed and thorough. One of the things it recommends is to push forward supporting industry to develop an indigenous satellite design and manufacturing capability in preference to launcher development. It concludes that:

        "The disappointing performance of Black Arrow launcher R2 in September 1970 was not due to poor project management, bad fundamental design, or low grade effort. We know we were taking a gamble in trying to make do with so few test launches, and the gamble went against us.

        The cost of launching of the X3 satellite on the R3 vehicle is almost fully incurred, and the best policy would therefore be to launch X3 in July 1971 as planned. But in spite of all the work being done to follow up the R2 failure, we cannot be sure that the gamble will not go against us again on R3. The Ministry has neither the time nor the resources to build up greater confidence in Black Arrow before X3 is ready for launch.

        It is probable that with the present launch rate of one Black Arrow a year, we will still not be fully confident of its reliability by 1974 when we are planning to launch X4, the second major technological satellite. Even if the Ministry agreed to fund an increase in the launch rate, only one or two extra Black Arrows could be built and launched by 1974.

        There is a three-year gap between X3 and X4, but Black Arrows are being built at the rate of one a year. This mismatch between the production rates of launchers and worthwhile satellites may well continue beyond X4, and cannot easily be remedied by adjustments to the launcher programme which is already running at about the minimum level for efficiency.

        The current programme gives us too few Black Arrow to establish the vehicle as a proven launcher in a reasonable timescale, and too many to meet our requirements for satellite launches. It is therefore not a viable programme at present, and there is no easy way out of the dilemma.

        Black Arrow has no alternative use, and the nation would have much to gain and little to lose if it were cancelled in favour of American launchers. We would be abandoning a certain political independence and a guarantee of commercial security payments, but on these two points satisfactory safeguards should be available from the US authorities.

        Unless a formal approach is made quickly to the inhabitants on the availability of Scouts and other launchers for our technological satellite programme, further commitments will have to be made on Black Arrow vehicles as an insurance move.

        As soon as we are satisfied that we can get the launchers we need from the Americans on acceptable terms, the Black Arrow programme be brought to a close as soon as possible. However, the launching of X3 on the R3 vehicle should proceed, and there may be a need for a further launch if problems arise with X3/R3.

        I therefore recommend that:

        The Ministry should make a formal approach to the US authorities as soon as possible about the availability of launchers for X4 and subsequent satellites in the National Space Technology Programme, and terms on which they can be provided.

        Commitments on R5 and subsequent Black Arrow vehicles should be kept the minimum possible level while the Americans are being approached, and all work on them should be stopped as soon as satisfactory arrangements have been made for the supply of US launchers.

        The X3 satellite should be launched as planned on the R3 Black Arrow vehicle in July 1971; the R4 vehicle should be completed in all major respects and used as a reserve for R3 up to the launch. If X3 goes into orbit successfully and functions as planned, the Black Arrow launcher programme should be brought to a close without further launches.

        If X3 fails to go into orbit successfully or fails to work in orbit, the Ministry will have to decide whether to bring the launcher programme to a close at that point or repeat the X3 experiments by launching the X3R on the R4 vehicle. Unless they are sure that the R4 vehicle has a better chance of success than the R3, and it is worth spending £1 million to repeat the satellite experiment, a further launch should not be sanctioned.

        The X4 satellite should be launched on Scout; and Scout or Thor Deltas should be bought as necessary for later satellites in the series.

        The Ministry should determine at a high level the views of British industry on the value of a technological satellite programme. If no such value can be identified the programme should be brought to a stop. If it is established that the programme is worthwhile, a plan should be drawn up for a series of future satellites so organised as to give the maximum benefit to British firms in their attempts to win contracts in the international market."

        1. ClockworkOwl

          Re: To Infini

          That section sound very like the usual:

          " we didn't support this wholeheartedly enough in the begining, and because of that we should completely stop all funding and withdraw support at the first opportunity..."

          The lack of foresight is quivalent to the old IBM world market for computers skit.

          I know hindsight is perfect etc. but when you see who else is making their space programmes work well for them now, and how much effort is expended to achieve orbital capabilities, you have to wonder at the alternate universe where funding was maintained.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: To Infini

            I always wondered if there was some sort of non-competition agreement between the UK and US after WW2.

            Computing, antibiotics, space flight, double key encryption etc we gave it all away and look where we are now, begging the third world to supply us with the brains in order to stay relevant in a world where tech is the difference between living or dying.

            You have to wonder about why, either our leaders took a backhander or they really are stupid, shortsighted retards that shouldn't be trusted to look after your dog let alone STEM

            I remember reading a career pamphlet in the '90s that stated that technical people do not make good managers and anyone wanting to reach the top should not do a tech or science degree, amazingly my experience of non-technical managers is that they are a waste of space who exist only to not explain to their bosses how it all works.

            For those unsure, good managers are people who can keep their staff happy and productive whilst also directing their efforts in the correct direction for maximum gain.

            Strangely Business Studies people believe it is something else along the lines of keep your staff down, claim any improvement was due to you alone and never pass on anything from your staff that might upset/ clue in your bosses, until it is far too late to do anything about it.

            Perhaps the problem is the idea that it is possible to learn to be a good manager by listening to people who do not have a clue about anything themselves but can get some flunky to write pamphlets for them. Thus you can guess what I think the BS in their degree stands for

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: To Infini

              "You have to wonder about why, either our leaders took a backhander or they really are stupid, shortsighted retards that shouldn't be trusted to look after your dog let alone STEM"

              Pourquoi pas les deux? Those are not mutually exclusive.

            2. Julz Silver badge

              Re: To Infini

              A good place to start thinking about some of these seemingly strange decisions would be to factor in how much mulla we owed the Yanks as a result of the war.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: To Infini

                I don't think the idea of too many other nations with their own capability to make ICBM systems went down well, and that they, being desperate for money, might sell these to some out of favour nation.

                Now North Korea and Iran roll their own of course they will do this is you try to tell them they can't.

            3. phuzz Silver badge

              Re: To Infini

              "I always wondered if there was some sort of non-competition agreement between the UK and US after WW2."

              One way of looking at it is that the USA won the Second World War, and everyone else lost. Even countries like Britain who "won", were left with massive debts, half ruined industry from bombing, and memorials where half the male population should have been.

              The US wound up being owed money or reparations by most of the planet, whilst having take basically no damage to it's territory, and the massive war industry could be quickly repurposed into providing luxury goods like cars.

              Old empires like Britain, France or Japan were no longer competition, and war-time spending had pushed US industry and technology to new heights. (Where countries like the UK had helped to develop the atom bomb, they could now be told to jog-on with impunity).

              Unsurprisingly, for the next fifty or so years, the US basically ruled the world.

          2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: To Infini

            That section sound very like the usual:

            " we didn't support this wholeheartedly enough in the begining, and because of that we should completely stop all funding and withdraw support at the first opportunity..."

            No it doesn't. What he's saying is that we're producing the minimum number of rockets we possibly can, because we don't have any use for more. We could spend loads-a-money on improving the rockets to make launching less risky and prove the vehicle safe - but we've got limited use for it and industry doesn't either. So should we bother?

            We can't sell it to foreigners without spending loadsa money on proving it - and is there enough demand for launches anyway? Given we only want to launch a satellite every couple of years.

        2. amolbk

          Re: Poor project management? Never!

          "The disappointing performance of Black Arrow launcher R2 in September 1970 was not due to poor project management, bad fundamental design, or low grade effort. We know we were taking a gamble in trying to make do with so few test launches, and the gamble went against us."

          Hmm. No, the management is never at fault. It's always the workers. In our software project RCA (root cause analysis) the cause almost always is "coding and unit testing"! Victors write history.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Poor project management? Never!

            amolblk,

            No, he didn't say anyone was at fault. He said that they'd paid for the minimum launch cadence they could reasonably get away with. One launch per year. And that it was cheaper to take a risk on the odd one blowing up than it was to prove all the components - given that we were only doing one launch a year. The experimental satellite program wanted fewer than one launch a year, and industry didn't say they wanted any either - so what was the point in continuing with an inferior launcher with risks, when you could pay for better?

            It's an admirably clearly written piece of prose, giving an excellent summary of the situation - why don't people read it properly? I've no idea if he was right of course, but its better writing than I've seen in many other civil service documents. Or ones in business.

            1. amolbk

              Re: Poor project management? Never!

              Yes, i misread. Thanks.

        3. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: To Infini

          Seems that the ministry were only concerned about the current capabilities of the launcher and no thought was given to development of the next revision that would be more capable.

          After all, the Black Arrow was no more capable than the US Redstone Juno 1 from more than 10 years earlier. Redstone was a stepping stone to the next Mercury system.

        4. Ken 16 Silver badge
          Trollface

          "We would be abandoning a certain political independence ..."

          The current government would probably have something to say about that, unless they are also getting safeguards from the americans.

    2. steelpillow Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: To Infini

      On the rare occasions they reach the "ty" as well, they immediately pass the "and beyond" bit to the Americans.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To Infini

      The UK is a significant contributor to ESA's optional programmes, while other ESA members tend to only support the mandatory programmes. For instance, the UK has been providing 60% of the entire ESA NAVISP budget, way more than all the other ESA members combined. UKSA, InnovateUK and other government funded bodies are promoting/sponsoring activities in space, green technologies, biotech, etc.

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: To Infini

        While we can all argue with the "no more rockets" bit, the "lets develop a home-grown satellite manufacturing capability" part, actually paid off quite well in hindsight.

  2. Brian Miller

    Black arrow is red and silver?

    For some reason, I would have thought they would paint the rocket black, instead of red and silver. Especially with the nose cone such a bright shade of red, as in, "this end up."

    1. steelpillow Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

      The nose cone was done to match Christine Keeler's lipstick.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

        Ten years too late for Christine Keeler, besides Ted Heath was Prime Minister, I doubt hookers were his thing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

          >besides Ted Heath was Prime Minister, I doubt hookers were his thing.

          Unless they were wearing a sailor's uniform and beard ?

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

        I once bought a lippy called "Blue Streak" and found there were simply no clothing options that coordinated with it.

        That could have been one chilly night out...

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

          That could have been one chilly night out...

          Which would have lead to a match with the lipstick.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

          A work colleague once bought a pair of electric blue patent leather boots at lunchtime. Then complained to me that she hadn't got any clothes to go with them. I guess now I'd have been able to point her to some lipstick at least...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

      It looks like they are going to launch a giant lipstick into space.

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

        It looks like they are going to launch a giant lipstick into space.

        uh ... yeah. Lipstick, right.

        That's what I first thought too. Definitely lipstick.

        And not anything else, no indeed, not at all.

        1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

          Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

          DiViDeD: And not anything else, no indeed, not at all.

          Hmmm. You're probably the sort of person who thinks that we need to start penetrating the ground to discover the hidden secrets of what lies within, aren't you?

          1. DiViDeD Silver badge

            Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

            Oooh!

            Say "penetrate" again!

        2. Def Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

          It's painted the same as all Norwegian planes: white with a red tip.

          The phrase "come fly the bloody skies" seems to saunter slowly through my mind every time I see one.

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

      Big bright payload fairing so that it could be easier for visual sighting during launch.

      Original R0 failed launch had a white payload fairing and it was hard to see.

      1. Evil_Goblin

        Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

        Quiet you with your sensible explanations...

    4. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Black arrow is red and silver?

      "Red Dildo" would have been a more obvious name, but politically more difficult to impose.

  3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Ariane

    IIUC the UK stopped developing its own space vehicles and instead did so as a group effort with the European Space Agency (ESA), which has launched about 200 Ariane rockets. Wikipedia says the UK contributes about 9.5% of the ESA budget.

    I have no idea what role (if any) the UK will now play in the ESA after Brexit.

    1. CliveS

      Re: Ariane

      Blue Streak ended up as the first stage of the European Launcher Development Organisation's Europa rocket. ELDO eventually merged with European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) to form ESA, but not until after the UK had left ELDO. Europa in its various forms never had a successful launch. The UK,having left ELDO in 1969 was a founding member of ESA in 1975, signing the Convention in 1978. Post-Brexit the UK will remain a member of the ESA, the latter being separate from the EU.

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Ariane

        @CliveS

        Not all that separate from the EU.

        Quoting the Wikipedia:

        "EU and the European Space Agency

        The political perspective of the European Union (EU) was to make ESA an agency of the EU by 2014,[79] although this date was not met. The EU is already the largest single donor to ESA's budget and non-ESA EU states are observers at ESA. ".

        The legal basis for the EU/ESA co-operation is provided by a Framework Agreement which entered into force in May 2004. According to this agreement, the European Commission and ESA co-ordinate their actions through the Joint Secretariat, a small team of EC's administrators and ESA executive. The Member States of the two organisations meet at ministerial level in the Space Council, which is a concomitant meeting of the EU and ESA Councils, prepared by Member States representatives in the High-level Space Policy Group (HSPG).

        ESA maintains a liaison office in Brussels to facilitate relations with the European institutions.

        I have no doubt Britain will remain in ESA, but their status might change.

        And as a "joke alert" a guy named Wernher von Braun was a bit of a pioneer in rockets here in Europe until he decided to emigrate to the USA.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Space_Agency

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ariane

          ESA is an intra-governmental organisation that is entirely separate from the EU. ESA has a number of members that are not EU members and a number of EU members are not members of ESA..

          The EU/ESA framework agreement you referenced expired and has been replaced by something more like a supplier contract, for Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus. The EC has made some unsuccessful attempts to have the GSA replace ESA's role in Galileo and EGNOS. However, in November, the EC announced that in 2021, the scope of the GSA will be expanded, it's budget dramatically increased and it's name changed to EUSPA. This move clearly threatens ESA's position. It seems likely that the EC will try to borg ESA - or at least, the Navigation division - into EUSPA. ESA management probably hopes that their non-EU members (like Britain) might save them from this fate - but the current DG is leaving ... in 2021.

          1. Lars Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Ariane

            "ESA is an intra-governmental organisation that is entirely separate from the EU."

            I find that a bit silly to claim given the facts.

            So lets look at the strength of the "voice" in ESA.

            The main contributor is the EU from its budget and them we have members contributing.

            France 26.9%

            Germany 20.1%

            Italy 13.7%

            Spain 5.1%

            Other EU states

            together 13.3%

            Non EU states

            UK 9.5%

            Switzerland 3.4%

            Norway 1.8

            Canada 0.6

            Slovenia 0.1

            Considering the size of the country the British contribution is not that stellar.

            Apart from that ESA has its headquarters in Paris and the primary spaceport in Guiana.

            And I am not all that convinced that your claim - "ESA management probably hopes that their non-EU members (like Britain) might save them from this fate" is shared by all that many.

            Perhaps you should listen to Fintan O'Toole, "The Politics of Pain" to understand that some people find it quite plausible to cooperate and share resources, while some, perhaps due to historic nostalgia, find it harder.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA08SXJ8mAY

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvDAW5SjdaE

  4. Youngone

    The Beatles?

    Why did no-one tell me the Beatles disbanded?

    Someone should ask John to get the band back together. Or George. He'd be up for it.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: The Beatles?

      Could do drum and bass

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Black Prince

    There was also the proposed Black Prince rocket (aka Blue Streak Satellite Launch Vehicle) which was canned at the same time.

    It seems, after trying and failing to get other countries to pay for it, the parts of the projects which could be used for ballistic missiles were dropped in favour of US weaponry and the parts of the projects which could be used for space were canned.

    In other words the UK's usual aversion to spending money on anything in spite of having the ideas.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Black Prince

      Well they are happy to spunk £92M on a report for post-Breit sat-nav after withdrawing funding for other small space-related UK stuff that actually did something useful.

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/03/02/brexit_satellite_delay/

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Black Prince

      There was no bit of the program useable for ballistic missiles. We decided that land based missiles weren't very safe for us. We only wanted a minimal deterrent - which meant fewer missiles - which meant being vulnerable to first strike. We're also closer to Russia, for planes as well as missiles to be able to reach them. And we didn't have large stretches of wilderness we wanted to site them in.

      The submarine launched missiles (Trident and Polaris) are solid rockets, not liquid fuelled. So once the decision was made to go sea based nuclear, most of that technology was irrelevant.

  6. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Why Choose One?

    The first stage of that final Black Arrow was ... put on show as a reminder of capabilities dumped by the shortsighted powers-that-be ... Or as a celebration of British engineering and economy – take your pick.

    A little of Column A, a little of Column B?

    1. ClockworkOwl
      Coat

      Re: Why Choose One?

      A celebration of great British engineering being dumped by shortsighted powers that be.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Why Choose One?

        Great British engineering that was about 10-15 years behind the great German engineering that they had in the USA and USSR.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My Mrs has replica one of those in her draw.

  8. Steve K Silver badge

    Thunderbird 1

    I know it isn't, but that looks a lot like Thunderbird 1.....

    1. jonathan keith Silver badge

      Re: Thunderbird 1

      OR IS IT?

      ... The photo certainly has that Gerry Anderson style. And if you look closely enough you can see the strings.

  9. RichardB

    Planning Committee....

    Right lads, a .303 has a range over 4500 yards.

    How big do we have to make one to get to space?

    13m you say? What's that in real money? 14 yards you say?

  10. bleargh

    Rainbow codenames

    Always felt that the Brits missed an opportunity by not naming one of their nukes "Brown Streak".

    1. CliveS
      WTF?

      Re: Rainbow codenames

      The closest they got was Brown Bunny which became Blue Peacock, a 10kt tactical nuclear mine heated with live chickens...

    2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Rainbow codenames

      For bomb drop testing they would use ones with the explosives replaced with the same weight of cement to allow accuracy of drop, etc, to be tested and allowing the targets to be largely re-used, etc.

      They were nick named "Blue Circle" by the RAF!

      1. jonathan keith Silver badge

        Re: Rainbow codenames

        All part of the Ministry of Defence's long and illustrious history. Blue Circle was also the name given to the concrete ballast that filled Tornado F.2 nosecones in place of the (hugely delayed) Foxhunter radar system.

    3. Gonzales

      Re: Rainbow codenames

      I seem to remember a Goon Show episode where their answer to Blue Streak was a rocket called Brown Stain.

  11. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    I think they did the right thing

    As the Nazis learnt, rocketry is hard even if you do have the best & brightest working on it [1].

    The Americans learned how expensive it was send people into orbit. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the Apollo space program cost about $150 billion dollars in modern money. I can well imagine that that there was massive resistance within the government to spending vast sums.

    In the end, we got international cooperation and the ISS, which is a lot better than each country re-inventing the wheel.

    [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mUCLHzWiJo

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I think they did the right thing

      I'm surprised that the cost of Apollo was as low as $150Bn. The UK gave RBS £40Bn to prop it up in 2008. A whole space programme for only three times the cost sounds like a bargain. And then there are the projected costs for HS2... I'm not sure the prospect of being able to get from London to Birmingham a few minutes quicker is going to inspire a generation in quite the same way as seeing mankind walk on the moon.

      1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

        Re: I think they did the right thing

        $150Bn doesn't seem a lot for the Apollo program, but it puts that scam by Bas Lansdorp 'Mars One' in perspective, and his attempt to fund a Mars mission using reality TV and crowdfunding. Endemol who licensed 'Big Brother' reality TV was sold in 2000 for just €5.5Bn , and then ten years later was reported to be €3Bn in debt, and the most successful crowdfunding has raised ~quarter of a $billion (I'm excluding blockchain vapourware from that list). He was never going to raise enough money. That reminds me, I should go check the share price,.... oooh, what's that telling me, share release, a spike, then zero, then no trades for several years,.... did they get booted off the market?

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: I think they did the right thing

        A total 10 year program cost of $150B is less than the USA spends on cosmetics in 4 years. Based on $189.90 per person per year, and presumably they are using 'per person' for adults (about 75% of the 327M today) we get around $46.6B per year. From:

        https://www.statista.com/statistics/304996/us-expenditure-on-cosmetics-perfume-and-bath-preparation/

      3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: I think they did the right thing

        We didn't give RBS anything. Well at least, not yet.

        We lent them something huge, which I've forgotten, which they paid back within 3 years. That was money printed by the Bank of England and since destroyed - as all the banks were given short term loans.

        We also bought a controlling interest in the bank for some more money - which money was used to prop up the bank. The government still owns those shares, and will presumably sell them off soon. They've already sold the stake in Lloyds TSB at a profit.

        So the net cost of that bail-out should be low to zero once it's all unwound.

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: I think they did the right thing

      @deadlockvictim

      Yes still absolutely superb.

  12. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    the dubious title

    And one of which we should be thoroughly ashamed.

    We managed to keep Concord - a passenger jet that could out-drag just about every jet fighter of the day, and keep it up for three hours or more - but even that we failed to make money on.

    But giving up a working, if as yet insufficiently developed, space program? That way madness lay...

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: the dubious title

      I suspect that Concorde was the drain into which all that aerospace R&D funding went.

      But Concorde was such an audacious anomaly. If you think about it, 60,000 feet Mach 2 supercruise (no reheat) for up to 3 hours.

      The military used near-space suits to operate up there just for a few minutes, yet there was this passenger plane breezing along with 90 passengers sipping champagne in shirt sleeves, and having a stroll up and down to stretch their legs and go for a pee.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: the dubious title

        Yep, Tony Benn (I think) did the sums and decided that Concord was a good idea, and space wasn't. But hey, I wasn't there, so I can't complain too loudly.

        I too think Concord was utterly amazing. Obviously so did others, given the attempts to copy it - all of which have failed, to date.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: the dubious title

          Despite being an RAF pilot, Benn studied PPE at Oxford. I think that getting any ex PPE or Classics students comprehend the scientific future is mostly a lost cause.

  13. NeilPost Bronze badge

    Powered by Parrafin

    A quaint smile crossed my face when it mentions it was powered by Parrafin.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Powered by Parrafin

      I need to know if it was Pink Parrafin or boom boom boom boom Esso Blue.

      (the latter was not a John Lee Hooker version).

  14. Greybearded old scrote
    Unhappy

    To be (uncharacteristically) fair

    Britain had been an inch from bankruptcy ever since the war, and were heading towards a low point of not being able to keep the lights on.

    It was only the North Sea oil money bailed us out. (Whatever is claimed by the fanboys for the party that took the credit.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To be (uncharacteristically) fair

      A good point. Britain nearly went bankrupt in 1946, but was bailed out by the USA with a loan (we finished paying it back in 2006, which was the first I heard about it). Most history and comment on the period that I've read don't adequately consider what effects the shortage of money had on political decisions. Not just Beeching on the railways, but also Duncan Sandys on the aircraft industry. Ironically (given the topic of the article) that was driven by the idea that we could protect the country from air attack with missiles.

      Of course there were other, very British factors such as the enduring theory that studying classics or PPE is an ideal training for business management or politics. And that having the right tie or handshake is the key to promotion.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: To be (uncharacteristically) fair

        Of course there were other, very British factors such as the enduring theory that studying classics or PPE is an ideal training for business management or politics.

        Let’s not forget what one of the Ps and the E in PPE stands for. It’s their understanding of science stuff that I have doubts about.

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