I’ve written a bit about space this year, because it’s getting really interesting. It’s also because I’m a frequent flyer and can see how our world of transport has changed so, so much.
When I was little, my grandparents lived in a small village in North Devon. They had lived there their whole lives, except for a brief stint during the Second World War when they moved to Kent to help with building ships. My mum and dad were raised in adjacent villages, and met at one of the local dances. Mum, dad, nan and grandad were all local, as were their friends and family, and their biggest trip had been to London and Paris.
Then my parents moved for work to the Midlands. We worked and lived locally, and I went to school five miles from home. We had annual holidays, usually around Britain when I was very small, but we did drive to Spain one long, hot summer. That was amazing. A few years later, we would regularly fly to Majorca and Ibiza – well before they become clubbing islands – for two-week summer holidays. That was exotic.
I remember my father flying to America once, when I was young. I thought he had flown to the moon, it was so far away. He came back with some Super8 cinefilm of the United Nations and Niagara Falls, and we all watched it in the lounge together, like some big movie premiere. It was hi tech at its best back then.
Years later, I started to work and it was my burning ambition to travel and see the world. I would regularly be taking flights to Edinburgh, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to see the world. In 1987, I was lucky enough to persuade my manager to send me to Asia to manage a product launch of our new system. It was an amazing new product that could search words in documents on mainframe computers, and retrieve whatever article you wanted to find. Wow! Hi tech at its best back then.
The trip was all planned. Five weeks’ travel starting with a week in Singapore, followed by four weeks travelling all of our Australian offices for workshops and discussions. I was over the moon. I remember flying to Singapore via Doha, as no plane could fly so far in one journey. I had a whale of a time. It wasn’t just being in such a faraway place, but it was discovering things. For example, whilst in Singapore, I took a day trip to Malaysia. We ended up in the village of Kukup, where the local children all ran up to me to hold my hand, as they weren’t used to seeing foreigners. It really touched my heart, and I haven’t had that experience since although I did get close to it during a recent cruise on the Amazon in Peru, and being taken to a small village school there.
Which kind of brings us up to date, as just the very idea of a holiday on the Amazon sounds weird in that old analogue world. Today, I travel non-stop. This year, it feels like I’ve flown the equivalent number of miles that would have taken me to the moon and more. It’s been frenetic. At one point, I travelled four continents and seven countries in six days. That’s just mad but it is doable because it can be done and yes, I’ve done my bit for the Ozone layer.
Today, we do not blink an eye if someone says can you be in Paris for lunch and Berlin for dinner, because it’s so easy to do it. We all do it.
Think about your parents, grandparents and great grandparents. My grandparents went little further than the next village; my parents went little further than the next town; I go little further than the next planet. After all, space craft tests are over half a century old and I know some babies who have travelled further in their first year of life than their grandparents travelled in the whole of theirs, so why shouldn’t we be travelling to the next planet in the next generation?
As I watch the likes of Richard Branson with his second generation Virgin Galactic; Jeff Bezos with his reusable rocket program that John Glenn wrote I see the day coming when people will board spacecraft the same way millions of us now board jetliners (I see this day coming too) ; and Elon Musk’s stupid ideas become reality before we know it; I realise that we will be multiplanetary in the near future.
After all, one hundred years ago, flight technology was 13 years old and still limited in ability. Seventy years later, when I took that long-haul trip to Australia, it took me 36 hours and two stops to return. Planes could travel around 5,000 kilometres at most back then. Today, they can travel 15,000, as illustrated by Qantas announcing their new Dreamliner route that will take Londoners 15,000 kilometres around the world in 17 hours direct to Australia. The world is so much smaller. Today, we can travel half the Earth in a day. As noted by the Qantas announcement: When Qantas created the Kangaroo Route to London in 1947, it took four days and nine stops.
Times and technology are changing at a pace … are you keeping up?