More exciting news from space this week. As of this writing, a British-built spacecraft is about to start returning images of Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun.
An impressive achievement but difficult to see any immediate benefit for us.
Unlike other big space news this week: the government announced that we now have a national space strategy.
For the first time, our civil and defense interests in outer space are united.
The government has recognized, in the words of Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, that space is now “fundamental to the success of our armed forces.”
Indeed, he went further. It is also fundamental to our âcivil, commercial and economic activityâ.
In other words, everything we do.
Boris Johnson, always short of bluster, wants us to be a “scientific superpower”.
You can see the logic. Without all of these satellites competing with the stars in the night sky – nearly 7,000 and above – life as we know it would be simply impossible.
And it’s not just a navigation system that replaces maps or the ridiculous Alexa that tells us how to conduct our lives. Our defense system would be more vulnerable than a rabbit in a lion’s cage.
Forget the tanks at the enemy’s borders. The new frontier of defense is in space.
John Humphrys: Boris Johnson (pictured), never short of bragging, wants us to be a “science superpower”
The Cold War ended almost 30 years ago. Cyber ââwarfare is in its infancy. And the enemy has changed too.
President Putin is more concerned with rigging elections to stay in power and adding a few more stolen billions to his vast fortune than he is with Russia ruling the world.
The new threat is China. And this is a very different threat from that posed by nuclear missiles targeting London or tanks crossing the borders of Eastern Europe.
Not that China has refrained from invading countries it considers its own territory. Ask the people of Tibet.
Or the citizens of Taiwan, who watch with increasing fear the increasing level of Chinese military, political and economic pressure.
But China has no interest in attacking the West. She does not fear an attack from the West either.
In this new conflict, victory will not come from the barrel of a gun. It will come from influence. And influence is power.
China wants to have a free hand to use non-military means to extend its influence wherever it wants in the world.
This will ensure its own survival and growing prosperity and allow it to spread its anti-democratic message.
This is why the government is right that our ability to compete in space is fundamental – it will protect us from vulnerability to hideous blackmail.
The nuclear threat has been managed with that terrible acronym MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction. Cyber ââwarfare is the next threat.
Try to imagine a nation without electricity because its digital grid has been crippled. Unimaginable.
So now let’s come down to earth.
We can confidently assume that Boris Johnson will make his usual over-the-top promises at the Conservative Party conference starting tomorrow.
John Humphrys: You can see the logic. Without all of these satellites competing with the stars in the night sky – nearly 7,000 and above – life as we know it would be simply impossible (file photo)
But is this nation surely more than capable of resisting any threat of blackmail from the Chinese? Don’t we have some of the best scientists and engineers in the world?
Of course we do.
Don’t we have large factories more than capable of harnessing the latest technology and delivering the goods?
Of course we do.
What we lack is competence at the highest levels of the Ministry of Defense.
Year after year, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have released report after report, tearing the ministry apart for failing to get purchasing under control – and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in the process.
The most recent competitor in this hotly contested area of ââthe worst supply failures in the history of the department is the new Ajax light tank (cost: Â£ 3.5 billion).
It’s such a disaster that the soldiers couldn’t even test it properly to see how it works.
Or if it works at all. Last month, the Defense Ministry was forced to admit that 310 soldiers who tried it needed medical help for hearing loss, back spasms and joint pain.
And even if they could drive it safely, it would be almost pointless. Tanks have to shoot things as they run, right? Not Ajax. It struggles to shoot even at very slow speeds.
Oh, and he can’t back up over obstacles over eight inches high. So at least it will confuse the enemy, even if they can’t actually attack them.
But the grotesque waste of money spent on Ajax is modest compared to the huge sums spent on our two new aircraft carriers, one of which has yet to be deployed (cost: Â£ 6bn).
Maybe if we really needed the aircraft carriers it would have been money well spent. Or if we had had the planes to fly from them. Or if they had been able to protect themselves from enemy attacks.
But none of these âmaybeâ conditions applied.
No serious defense analyst thought we needed them, even though we had the planes to fly from them.
We must have spent another fortune to buy F35s in the United States. But they themselves turned out to be a flop. In the words of the top US Air Force officer, they “did not achieve their goals.”
And if, God forbid, we ever send the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier into battle against the Chinese, they could sink it with a missile long before the useless F35s managed to take off.
John Humphrys: One of the worst supply failures in the history of the department is the new Ajax light tank (cost: Â£ 3.5 billion). It’s such a disaster that the soldiers weren’t even able to test it properly to see how it works (Photo: Ajax tank)
If the phrase “couldn’t handle a whelk stall” comes to mind, you are not alone.
Maybe this shameful catalog of supply failures tells us we shouldn’t care.
According to our NATO allies across the Channel, we are only a âfifth wheelâ when it comes to defending the democratic West.
Of course, we need space defenses, but why not face reality and turn our space defenses over to the Americans?
There are already almost 3,500 active satellites there and the United States has almost 2,000. We have seven. Until three years ago, we did not have a single spy satellite.
It could rob Boris Johnson of his âscience superpowerâ boast, but it would save the nation huge amounts of money.
And it’s not like we don’t have a lot to spend it on.
Half a million? Well, he’s a big player …
Readers of a certain age can (just) remember the poster. It showed a Tommy in full combat gear in 1940, one hand holding his rifle, the other held up as a stop.
The caption: âIs your trip really necessary? “
We could have used a few of these posters outside our gas stations last week.
We’re not at war, but it’s starting to look like it. Then again, maybe we are at war.
That’s what well-meaning idiots would say trying to stop us from going somewhere. A war to save the planet. Or at least make a contribution.
And now another outfit has piled up with its own contribution – and you will surely remember it.
They are called Rolls-Royce and they have unveiled plans to launch their first electric car. It’s called the Specter (shades of James Bond – how fitting).
The chief executive of the company said it was the “most important” announcement since Mr Rolls met Mr Royce at a hotel in Manchester almost 120 years ago and they have decided to make a car.
Mr. Rolls had already thought about whether he should be electric. He had seen one in America. But the two decided it wouldn’t be “very usable – at least for many years to come.” Well now, it seems, it is very useful.
Indeed, it is already traveling our roads, heavily disguised of course, before its launch. Although perhaps “trundling” is a disrespectful nuance. They say it’s so quiet you can hear its clock.
You hope so, for the price. Half a million cool. Mind you, you’ll be able to buy a more humble version for just Â£ 300,000.
A small price to pay to save the planet. Then again, we could just stay more at home. Maybe the trip is really not necessary.