A collection of radio documentary programmes broadcast on the BBC World Service, with one thing in common – space.
What is the future of space flight? With a successful Nasa landing on Mars and more commercial space travel in development than ever before, astronautical engineers are taking us into a new age. From lift off to landing, rapid innovations are radically changing what's possible and bringing us much closer to outer space. Presenter Kevin Fong meets Adam Steltzner, Nasa's chief engineer for the 2020 Mission to Mars, Anuradha TK, Geosat programme director for the Indian Space Research Organisation and David Parker, director of Human and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency.
Taking place over just eight months, four perilous and eventful space missions laid the foundations for a successful Moon landing. Each pushed the boundaries of technology and revealed new insights into our own planet. As we count down to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, astronaut Nicole Stott tells the story of the build-up to mankind’s giant leap.
Governing moon miners, asteroid hunters and space junk sounds pretty tricky, but we better get our act together. This year the majority of space launches included commercial enterprises. Space is no longer just the playground of governments but companies; companies that want to mine the moon for water that they could sell as rocket fuel, companies that want to mine the moon for helium -3 which could be sold and used as energy back on earth and companies that want to mine asteroids for platinum that they could sell for huge profits. But is this legal?
If history had been kinder, aviator Wally Funk might have become the first woman on the Moon. In the early 1960s, she was one of 13 female pilots who passed the same physical tests as the Mercury 7 astronauts. Unfortunately her chance never came and no one has walked on the Moon since 1972, after the cancellation of the Apollo space programme. But today, space agencies and commercial companies around the world are preparing to return to the lunar surface and Wally meets the scientists and entrepreneurs trying to make this a reality.
Voyager 1 and 2: Still operating after 40 years in the depths of space. Voyager 1 is currently some 20 billion kilometres from Earth travelling at 15.5 kilometres a second. It takes 19 hours for a signal from the spacecraft's 20 watt transmitter to reach home. Voyager 2 is 17 billion kilometres away and will soon leave the Solar System. Launched in 1977, the twin spacecrafts have explored the giant planets and their strange moons, investigated the boundary of the Solar System and changed how we see our place in the Universe. The probes even carry a message for aliens in the form of a golden record. Retired NASA astronaut Ron Garan meets many of the original team still working on the mission, nursing the twin spacecraft through their final years. Photo: The Voyager 2 spacecraft passes by Saturn in 1981 Credit: NASA
The plans to set up human colonies in space and spaceships that will take us to the stars. Richard Hollingham travels to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop in Chattanooga, Tennessee to meet scientists, engineers, doctors and anthropologists who are working on it. These are not dreamers - although they all have an ambitious dream - but well qualified experts. Several work at Nasa, others have day jobs at universities and research institutes. Richard hears of proposals to build giant space stations and worldships - vessels packed with the best of humanity. These caravans in space might be lifeboats to escape an approaching asteroid or perhaps the first step to colonising the galaxy. With contributions from Technical Adviser to Nasa's Advanced Concepts Office Les Johnson, Director of the Space Engineering Centre at the University of Arizona John Lewis, architect Rachel Armstrong and anthropologist Cameron Smith. This programme first aired in November 2016.
Why African nations are so keen to journey into the future as a space-going continent. Space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock visits Nigeria, the birthplace of her father, to explore the passionate desire among some to fly against the continent’s impoverished stereotype and join the space race. And, what of the financial commitment required to achieve these dreams in countries where it is sometimes a struggle to keep the lights on? "Quite a few false starts have been made in Africa," wrote the Ugandan philosopher and writer Taban Lo-Liyong, "...but most of us know the direction we are going – straight into the 21st Century. And to arrive there we are not going to go the way our grandparents would have gone – on foot and by canoe. We shall fly, we shall go by missiles, we shall go with the white man, we shall go with the yellow man. And we shall go by all means." We follow this poetic, aspirational spirit through the continent’s history, from speaking to the South African hoping to be the first black African in space, to a surprising and touching example of amateur space exploration in 1960s Zambia. What do these ambitions mean, and who believes in them? This programme was first broadcast in October 2016. (Photo: Back dropped by planet Earth the International Space Station (ISS) is seen from Nasa space shuttle Endeavour, May 2011. Credit: Nasa)
The first footsteps on the Moon were one giant step for 'man', but from the early days of aeronautics women have also been involved in space travel. Presenter, pilot and aspiring astronaut Wally Funk pays tribute to the pioneers, meets some of those involved within today’s space industry, and hears from the woman who might be among the crew for the first human mission to Mars. Wally has first hand experience of the early days of space travel in America. She undertook secret tests to become an astronaut in 1961 and, along with 12 other female pilots, passed the extremely tough physical tests to become an unofficial member of the ‘Mercury 13’ – the women who, given a chance, could have gone into space before Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova made history. Wally hears from astronauts Jessica Meir, Helen Sharman, Eileen Collins and Samantha Cristoforetti; mission control flight director Mary Lawrence; space historian David J Shayler; and shares her 1961 astronaut medical tests with NASA flight surgeon Shannan Moynihan. Over 50 years after those tests, Wally is still flying (she takes her producer above Dallas in a Cessna) but she is yet to get into space. However Wally is on the waiting list for one of the first commercial space tourism flights and is prepared to make history as yet another woman with the right stuff. This is a Boffin Media production for BBC World Service.