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Diaspora - 18 July 2019

Scotland and the Space Race

Dad worked for NASA in the 60’s.  He moved us from Waldwick, New Jersey to Merritt Island, Florida when he took a position, with countless other engineers, at the Kennedy Space Center.

Some of my best memories from my childhood are from the years we lived in Florida.  We lived in what I considered a mansion, but in reality, was a 4-bedroom ranch home that backed up to the Indian River citrus orchard, and was close enough to the Banana River, I could picnic on a dock and reel in blow fish any time I wanted to.  I try to push back the memories of the nasty mosquitos, palmetto bugs, hurricanes and snakes.  I remember long bike rides down island and exploring new construction homes and pick-up games of baseball with other kids in the neighborhood.  Those were great memories from an important time in our lives.

So many of the kids in my then 5thand 6thgrade classes had parents who also worked for NASA.  Our teachers made a point of ensuring we were outside on the playground whenever there was a rocket launch.  The playground would fill with children looking towards the sky waiting to see the tell-tale sign of the trail of smoke from each launch.  We vied to be the first to spot the rocket.  As the earth rumbled, we all knew our parents were part of something really important.  We had no idea just how important.

50 years later, I have a much better sense of just how important the space race was and continues to be.  As Steve and I cleared out the last few boxes from the garage that once held all my Dad’s “stuff” we found one box that had been squished among other prized possessions (blow-up rafts, duct tape, various nuts and bolts, and golf shoes).  I glanced through the box and decided it alone would be the one box I would take to our new home on wheels to see what was inside.  I’m glad I did.  Inside was a small posted envelope from the 16thof July 1969 (50 years ago) with the Apollo 11 emblem, postmarked from Kennedy Space Center, to my Dad.  We had moved back to New Jersey in 1968, and a fellow engineer had posted it the day Apollo 11 launched.  A small note inside told my Dad “… hang onto this it might be worth something someday.” I gave the envelope to my younger child, who in turn just donated it to the NASA International Space Museum in Alamogordo, New Mexico.  The museum was very pleased to receive it.  Due to the timely receipt of their new acquisition, it will be on display with other Apollo 11 items this weekend to commemorate the launch 50 years ago. I’m so glad my Dad kept it.


No doubt some of us are old enough to relive the moment we watched American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step onto the moon.  Do you remember where you were when you watched that moment?  I do.  Music Camp, University of Kansas (French horn).

But what does all this walk down memory lane have to do with Scotland?  Well… it turns out that Scotland has recently taken a very active part in the Space race.  A quick search for Scotland and the Space Race reveals that Glasgow is a leader in Europe.  Cally Russel has written a nice article in Forbes that you can read in detail here:

Companies such as Clyde Space, Alba Orbital have been taking the lead.  Producing as many as 6 small satellites a month, Scotland has certainly taken their seat at the table of countries that will be at the forefront of space exploration.

Glasgow has produced more satellites in the last 2 years than any other city in Europe, and Scotland will also be home to the UK’s first Spaceport.  Located in Sutherland (A'Mhòine peninsula), it will be optimal for satellite shots for polar orbits and more.  Wiki has good information here:

With the uptick in the number of satellites produced in Glasgow, there is also the need to analyze the data that is gleaned by the satellites.  So this is the other large role Scotland is participating in. Bird.i, a start-up, is providing new data that will update some of the now outdated Google Maps imagery.  (8 years old data, in some cases.)

Universities in Glasgow are also taking a lead in the exploration of space.  Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities have world-class facilities focusing on space.  They’ve opened up to companies to provide commercial opportunities in Scotland.

So, although I always think of Florida when I think of the space program, it is wonderful to realize that Scotland has stepped up to take a lead a short 50 years after that moment in time we all remember.

Thank you Neil and Buzz and Michael Collins.

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