For young would-be scientists, space offers a boundless challenge

Morning View
Morning View

Major Tim Peake yesterday blasted off into space, where he will become the first Briton to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS).

The spectacular take-off from Kazakhstan is the beginning of a six-month mission.

As David Cameron said, Britain would be watching his mission with “admiration and wonder”.

Space journeys simultaneously illustrate two almost opposite things about mankind.

The extraordinary science and precision and technology shows how far people have advanced in a matter of decades, let alone centuries. When the News Letter was launched 278 years ago, hardly a long time in human history, transport was by horse, carriage or boat.

But space exploration also shows how little we have achieved in terms of travelling the solar system, let alone the galaxy, let alone the universe. The nearest star other than the sun is Alpha Centauri, which is more than four light years away. That might not sound much until you realise that at the speed of the fastest rockets, which travel at around 40,000 mph, it would still take the best part of 100,000 years to reach it.

And that is one of thousands of stars that can be seen with the naked eye, which are a fraction of tens of billions of stars in the Milky Way, which itself is one of billions of galaxies.

This means that our space travel is incomprehensibly small.

If every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, in the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, then every journey of a trillion miles should begin with a journey such as the one undertaken to ISS yesterday.

The cabinet said yesterday that the trip was an inspiration for young people in studying science. Perhaps there is a child in Northern Ireland reading this today who will one day become a Rory McIlroy of space technology – the global expert.

He or she will face limitless challenges working on, and trying to understand, the biggest challenges for life as we know it.