Festival will commemorate Moon landing

Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary will be commemorated in Orkney in September with a programme of talks on space and astronomy in the islands’ annual science festival. Speakers will include Scotland’s Astronomer Royal and the chief executive of a Scottish satellite company; and there will be a call for a radical new approach to speed up space exploration.

The new way ahead will be outlined by Matjaž Vidmar of the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, who is also chair of the Gateway Earth Development Group. The group see the key to space exploration as the development of a space station as a staging-post, where interplanetary spacecraft can be built and serviced.

Such an approach will add further to the significance of efforts to build a spaceport in Scotland for rockets to take small satellites into orbit. Developing cheaper systems to carry equipment and material into low-earth orbit could open the way to building a full-scale spacecraft docking station.

Matjaž Vidmar highlights the importance of the Apollo 11 anniversary.

“The landing on the Moon was a transformational achievement which changed the perspective we have on our own planet forever: a fragile blue marble on the vast dark lunar sky.”

Challenges of astronaut training

This year’s Orkney International Science Festival will also feature one of the competitors from the BBC Two series Astronauts: Do you have what it takes? Physicist Dr Jaclyn Bell spoke in the Festival last year about her experiences as a trainee astronaut in the TV series.

“I am delighted to be returning this year to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo,” she says, “not only to talk about my current training and ambition to be the UK’s next astronaut, but to speak about my other passion in life – particle physics.”

Steve Lee, founder and chief executive of the Edinburgh company Stevenson Astrosat, will describe new uses of satellite images from space – to track illegal logging, tackle fuel poverty and map storm progress to improve disaster responses.

Astronomy and poetry

Scotland’s Astronomer Royal, Prof. John C. Brown of the University of Glasgow, will share a platform with Scots writer Rab Wilson, part of a collaboration between astronomy and poetry that has resulted in the publication of a new book. He will also be visiting Orkney’s remotest island, North Ronaldsay, to support the community’s efforts for international recognition of their very dark skies.

Opportunities for night sky photography will be highlighted by Highlands amateur astronomer Eric Walker who will show images taken from his home in Conon Bridge and tell the story of the various Moon landings.

Prof. Arjun Berera of the University of Edinburgh will describe how life may already be carried through space. Streams of dust bombard the Earth from space every day, he says, and so violently that they are capable of dislodging tiny living creatures like bacteria and other organic material floating in the atmosphere and sending them hurtling through space.

The outward quest

The Festival will include a concert in the 12th-century St Magnus Cathedral in tribute to the life and work of the great American astronomer Carl Sagan, who inspired a generation with his vision of space exploration as part of something very deep in human nature, an outward quest for knowledge and experience. The concert will feature the Mayfield Singers from Orkney and Paisley Abbey organist George McPhee.

The Festival, now in its 29th year and the oldest anywhere outside Edinburgh, takes place this year from 5-11 September. Fuller details can be found at www.oisf.org.

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