Friday, 22 August 2014

(13) Cape Cymru ( #UKSpaceport )

Don't read any further if you think £400 billion is a trivial amount. That is how much the worldwide space industry is predicted to be worth by 2030 if it carries on growing by about 7% a year as it has been doing even during the recent recession. The UK has set its sights on capturing 10% of this market and is planning to build a spaceport at one of eight possible shortlisted locations. In the short term the spaceport would need to be able to accommodate suborbital space tourism flights that are likely to start within the next two years.
The sites shortlisted include one in England, one in Wales and six in Scotland. Ideally the location would need minimal investment, have favourable weather, be away from populated areas and crowded airspace but also be reasonably easily accessible. At first glance there doesn't seem to be an ideal Goldilocks location in the UK. So why not Wales?

A cynic might say that the promise of a spaceport for Scotland is an incentive for Scotland to remain part of the UK and that the site in North Wales (Llandebr) is just a token inclusion. Few people would expect Wales to be chosen and no one would be surprised if a site in Scotland or England was eventually chosen. Billions of pounds can be spent on infrastructure projects outside Wales such as HS2 or Crossrail but Wales has been conditioned to expect to fail. Some Space Luddites might even dismiss the coming inevitable space revolution as unimportant and irrelevant but this is far from the truth.

About 30,000 people are currently employed in the space sector in the UK but this is just part of a much larger aerospace industry which is the second largest civil aerospace industry in the world. Just over 20,000 are employed in Wales in aerospace and defence related industries. Universities with research and development linked to hi tech companies are replacing the old heavy industry engines of the first industrial revolution and Llandebr is ideally situated and ready to serve as a catalyst.

You can analyse the population density, weather, length of runway, ease of access and many other factors but Llandebr has more to offer. The clue is in the name, Space Tourism. Imagine you are driving towards North Wales. The roads steadily narrow eventually winding their way through the Snowdonia National Park until you reach a place where the sky meets the sea. The place where you will leave Earth, Llandebr spaceport (Cape Cymru). You can watch the sunset over the sea while you contemplate the enormity of the next step in your journey but not before you and your companions make the most of all the other attractions North Wales has to offer. Wales has been voted top country in the world to visit in 2014 by readers of one of the planet’s leading guide books. There are mountains, castles, gold mines, caves, mock Italian villages, unspoilt beaches and wide open spaces that have to be seen to be fully appreciated. The Welsh flag even has dragon on it. Surely that on its own should be reason enough to build a spaceport in Wales.

You have to ask yourself, do you want to live in a country that reminisces about the fading glory years of the industrial revolution or do you want to live in a country that looks to and helps build the future and takes part in the next revolution?
The space revolution.   

Taffanaut Log Supplemental (Stardate 68942.2)
In March 2015 the UK government reduced the shortlist of eight aerodromes that could host a UK spaceport to six. Two Scottish sites were ruled out due to "operational defence reasons". Another Scottish site was included in the list but only as a possible temporary location. This left five potential locations with one additional possible temporary location.

Stornoway airport was ruled out by the owners who also owned Campbeltown.

Without going into too much detail this effectively left -

   Glasgow Prestwick

Remaining sites have been invited to submit their cases for becoming the first UK spaceport. A decision is due to be made sometime in late 2016.

I am slightly biased but I still believe that Llanbedr has ticked most of the boxes for the real decision makers.

"All spaceport selection criteria are equal but some are more equal than others."


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

(12) The Full Taffanaut

It is not really relevant which company I work for. I am a programmer and I sit all day in an office re-arranging 1's and 0's trying to hack together solutions to problems while awake, asleep or somewhere in-between. In some ways it is like most other jobs. Someone takes credit for the work I do unless I make a mistake which sometimes happens if my mind drifts off to escape my self-inflicted suicide beige painted cell. At least it pays the bills, almost. 

Once born into this world dressed in hope, dreams and ambition, now with more past than future I am bored of the futility of existence. There is a window on the other side of the office and through that window there are some trees with birds in. They hop from branch to branch and tweet to each other. Stupid birds. They cannot appreciate the higher levels of excitement and delight in this world like shiny mobile phones, flat screen TVs or matching luggage sets. There is so much beauty and wonder to see but we blind ourselves with trivial things. I hate it all but there must be more to hate than this.

Everyone in the office was invited to attend a meeting. The birds were not invited. I already knew that bad news was coming but I wasn't prepared for how bad. There were going to be redundancies and more people would be going than would be staying. Was this part of the game? was this the equal and opposing force that I had been expecting that would deny me from being able to pledge 20% of the ticket price? Was I the indirect cause of this mass cull? Why had the birds got off scot free? Then somewhere inside my mind a connection was made. I have what I can only describe as some kind of augmented Tourette's syndrome which has a nasty habit of presenting me with inappropriate thoughts. A song started to play in my head.

Sittin' here eatin' my heart out waitin'
Waitin' for some lover to call
Dialed about a thousand numbers lately
Almost rang the phone off the wall

Lookin' for some hot stuff baby this evenin'
I need some hot stuff baby tonight
I want some hot stuff baby this evenin'

The Full Monty signing on scene had popped into my head. I looked around the room and imagined a room full of programmers gyrating and thrusting their hips in time to the music. Not a pretty sight.

Gotta have some hot stuff
Gotta have some love tonight
I need hot stuff
I want some hot stuff

I bit my lip and looked down just as an imaginary red leather thong slid across the boardroom table in front of me, still warm, exhaling as it slumped into a post nuptial exhausted heap.

Was possible redundancy good news or bad news?
I had contacted my favoured commercial sponsor who initially seemed interested and implied that they were considering my proposal but I hadn't heard anything since and realization was slowly setting in that they weren't going to get back in touch. It was too easy to ignore me. I was already considering "going large" in order to get press coverage. Surely the press would love a Full Monty type story about some mad Welsh guy being made redundant and pledging all his redundancy money on a ticket to space. Sponsors would be unable to ignore me. The idea went round and round in my head for days together with the song but in the end I decided that I couldn't go through with it. It would not have been right for me to exploit the situation when people were losing their jobs.

There was a month of redundancy consultations and everyone had a pretty good idea about who would be staying or going by the time they were called into their individual meetings. I bit my lip in my meeting as I was told that I was staying and tried not to think of a piston fisted gibbon, chocolate fudge dragon or salad cream.

It was a relief when the redundancies were over because I had not really been able to focus on anything let alone Taffanaut. I needed to clear my head and get The Taffanaut Chronicles up to date before starting on the final push so one evening I took advantage of the empty house and sat down, booted up my laptop/tray and started getting outside a reheated a left over curry as quick as I could. My aggressive psychotic immune system had other ideas. By the time I suspected that I might be starting to suffer from anaphylactic shock it was too late. Less than a minute later I was face down over the arm of the sofa sweating, shaking, gasping for breath with my heart slowing. I struggled to remain conscious and with my sight failing I watched my hands turn red and start to blister. Getting to the phone or trying to get help was pointless and impossible. I didn't have the ability and I certainly didn't have the time. My brain was quickly calculating and narrowing down all my options and possible outcomes and I was now just a passenger waiting to choose one of the options. There was no emotion, no flashback of life, no tunnel with a light at the end. Somewhere inside there was a disturbingly cold calculating inhuman machine that had no real concern for me but just wanted to survive at all costs. The analysis was completed and there were two options:-

Option 1 : Do not black out, ride it out and then get help.

Option 2 : Probably die

I clenched my muscles fighter pilot style to try and keep conscious. Just before Easter 2014 as the moon turned red during the first of the four Blood Moon lunar eclipses a war raged inside me. Each heartbeat rhythmically exploded into my head with an eye popping psychedelic thud thud thud beat.

Seemingly there is no reason for these extraordinary intergalactic upsets
Taff a-ah
Saviour of the Universe
Taff a-ah
He'll save every one of us
Taff a-ah
He's a miracle
Do not dispatch war rocket Ajax to bring back his body lovely boy. 
Taffanauts alive! 

Eventually I had enough energy to get to call for help and Nicci drove me to the local A&E department where the staff made sure a bad day didn't get any worse. I was glad that the futility of existence for the one outweighed the nonexistence of the many.

It was too close for comfort and a bit of a wakeup call. I needed to start on the final push before some other correcting force stopped me from deviating from my predefined corridor of possibilities. The birds were still in the tree outside work hopping from branch to branch. Stupid birds. They would never be able to comprehend the full genius/insanity of the plan that had been fermenting in my head. All the options had been analysed and each possible outcome had been simulated. The analysis was complete and there was only one option which could succeed.
It was time.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

(11) The Game (Pareidolia)

From an early age we try and make sense of the world that we are born into but we learn far more than we are actually aware of. Sometimes you can almost catch an indirect glimpse of the truth. It's that sudden feeling that something just isn't quite right like the feeling you get when you know that the phone is about to ring before it happens, that feeling that you knew what someone was going to say as they were saying it. Your thought process seems to sharpen as you struggle to grasp on to this valuable revelation before it fades and you return to the real world but for a fraction of a second you felt you were on the verge of understanding. This world isn't quite what it seems. There are rules in this world that we are not fully aware of. Am I as mad as a box of frogs (playing banjos) for writing this? Are you mad for reading it? Read the following scenario and decide.

You are in your car and you have to get to your destination which isn't far away. You don't have much time to spare but you've estimated how long it should take you to get there and you should have enough time. The first traffic light you encounter turns red and holds you up for a minute or two. The next traffic light turns red as you are approaching it and it seems to take an age to turn back to green especially as there doesn't seem to be enough traffic to warrant it staying red for that amount of time. You should recognise and have personal experience of this type of story whether you drive or not. It isn't just the lights that are causing problems. Other drivers are taking too long to decide what to do or are making bad decisions which delays you further. You re-estimate how long it will take you to get to your destination. It will be tight but you should still be able to make it. After all the law of averages mean that some of the lights should be green but on this particular day that doesn't happen and you end up being late.

You may recognise this situation as one that you have experienced and may also recognise that I omitted one aspect of the story. After a few hold ups whether they are caused by other drivers or inanimate traffic lights, you start to object vocally. Some people are really quite good at this. You object to the unfairness of it all but the lights aren't listening. The other drivers can't hear you. There may not even by anyone in the car with you and even if there was surely they couldn't help you. To the casual passer-by you look like an angry red faced baboon that has just arrived at the banana shop only to find that it has closed for the weekend.
Why do you do this?

You somehow recognise some underlying rules to this world. It's the toast that lands butter side down, it's the checkout queue that stops moving as soon as you join, it's the automated phone system, it's all of the above that seemingly make a conscious effort to frustrate and annoy you. It doesn't matter that there is no one around to hear you object but it does help. Just by stating aloud that the events are unfair you hope to address and influence them and force the game to change back to its default random fair state.
Why am I writing this?

I had contacted all the Welsh universities to ask if they were interested in my proposition. Some said no. Some showed some interest and wished me luck but there were no cash pledges. I expected some to say no but I was also counting on at least one showing some interest but I didn't get any return phone calls. I felt as welcome as an unexpectedly eager fart during a funeral eulogy. Maybe a Welsh guy from a nowhere town couldn't succeed. Maybe the more I tried then the more obstacles I would come up against. Maybe the rule below that I had long suspected existed really did exist.

You can only live your life within a predefined corridor of possibilities.
Any attempt to deviate from that corridor will result in a correcting force.

There was only one course of action available. I crossed my fingers and made a blood sacrifice to my lucky gonk, stroked a black toad and licked a cat while throwing a pinch of salt over my shoulder. I also wrote down the above rule and made sure that someone read it and by reading it hopefully they would nullify it. That person was you. Thank you.

I also changed my plan just in case. After all I am not really superstitious and don't believe in any of that astronomy stuff. I'm a Taurus. I increased the amount of money I was pledging from 10% to 20% of the ticket price (£13,000) and I wasn't going to ask universities for any money but would instead look to get four commercial sponsors to match my 20%. I never had the initial pledge money so doubling my pledge kind of made sense to me. If no sponsors came forward then I would save double the money that I didn't have. If everything worked out then I would end up in space and uncle Visa card would have to take care of my pledge.

This was a classic gunfighter type standoff. I would be up front and let everyone know that there were only four sponsor slots available and then wait for the first potential sponsor to make a move. Once at least one sponsor had backed me then further press coverage was likely to follow and that in turn would help me attract further sponsors. Once one sponsor had pledged support then the whole process would become unstoppable and I already had an ideal apt sponsor in mind.
Understand the game and change it from within.
How could anything go wrong?

Sunday, 12 January 2014

(10) The Proposal (v2.0)

I am looking for only 4 sponsors to take part in this marketing/PR opportunity. I need £100,000 to become the first person born in Wales, raised in Wales and living in Wales to go into space. If I raise the ticket price then SXC (Space Expedition Corporation) have pledged to donate talks to Welsh universities.

I have pledged £25,000 (25% of the ticket price)
I am looking for another 3 sponsors (£25,000 each) or
1 sponsor (£75,000)

Sponsors will:-
Benefit from the publicity involved with SXC donating talks to Welsh universities.
SXC have stated that they are keen to be involved in any publicity.

Benefit from publicity in me becoming the first Welsh person in space.
There has been some press coverage already.

Evening Post:-

BBC Radio Wales:-

The Taffanaut Facebook page will have more than 4000 likes by the end of January with an average 450+ new likes every month. These are mostly in the UK (Wales) but there is interest from other countries (EG USA, Europe). A broad cross section of people are liking the page including a large set from further and higher education. I have already made contact with some press around the world. As soon as I get at least 1 sponsor pledge then press agencies are likely to cover the story further.

Any future income directly derived from being the first Welsh person in space will be split accordingly between sponsors.

I am happy to take part in any publicity (within reason. I don't do topless). I am happy to answer any questions and can be contacted via Facebook
or Email me (See

Why invest in me?
I was born, raised and went to university in Wales and want to try and give something back to the area which I grew up in. I am passionate about this cause and will do whatever I can to help it succeed.

Has anyone Welsh ever been into space?
There has been more than one astronaut of Welsh descent (E.g. Joe Tanner having one Welsh parent) but no one born and raised in Wales with UK citizenship has ever been into space.

When will the trip to space take place?
XCOR's competitor, Virgin Galactic look likely to start commercial flights in 2014. XCOR flights are likely to take place shortly after.

Why SXC and XCOR?
The two major companies currently competing in the space tourism market are XCOR and Virgin Galactic. XCOR appears to be more focused on "making space accessible" and has a current ticket price less than half that of Virgin Galactic. Although Virgin Galactic is likely to make commercial trips into space before XCOR I believe that the high ticket price for Virgin Galactic will deter everyone apart from the rich and famous. I could not justify asking for £250,000 and have therefore opted to back XCOR via SXC.

What does the trip involve?
The XCOR Lynx is a revolutionary reusable space plane that takes off from a runway and reaches a speed of up to Mach 3 in approx. 4 minutes. The craft will reach 100 km (61 miles) which is the international recognised start of space, before re-entering the atmosphere and gliding back to Earth.

When is payment required?
As a first step I simply ask for a commitment to pay.

To who is payment made?
The company selling tickets and requiring payment is SXC.

What happens if for some reason the flight does not go ahead?
Both Virgin Galactic and XCOR are committed to developing and flying their space planes and numerous bookings have already been made. I will need to pass two medicals to be declare space worthy. If I fail the first medical then all money will be returned. If I fail the second medical then a small amount will be retained by XCOR (approx. £1500 in total).

Can this plan change?
Yes. I have never attempted anything like this before so there is a chance that I have made naïve mistakes. I am happy to change any aspect of this plan if it helps achieve success without compromising the original aims.

Further info:-

SXC video:-

SXC web page:-

XCOR web page:-