To infinity and beyond?

Posted on: June 21, 2011 by Mike Smith

With the US government cutting funding to space projects, is this a good time for an IT company to take an interest in Space Travel? Quite possibly, yes.

Since the birth of mankind, man has looked upwards. Our curious human nature has led us to send men to the moon (in a machine with less computing power than a scientific calculator) in the hope of being closer to unlocking but the minutest of secrets the universe holds. 1969 saw Armstrong take a leap for mankind and the subsequent decades have seen the bombardment of theories and stories regarding the wonders of the universe; the world of fiction was not shy from their contribution either.

Inevitably a fraction of the fiction is becoming reality, especially with recent developments leading towards the commercialization of space travel. Let’s face it, if you had chance to travel to space, you would take it in a flash (although currently it seems a luxury only a fair few will be able to afford).

Although this industry is still in its infancy, Virgin Galactic are already booking seats and expect to be able to carry out sub-orbital missions and satellite launches, starting as soon as 2012.

It is this nectar of advancement that may draw any IT business’ attention; new developing technologies that are accelerated due to space related ventures. Much of this can be adapted for modern day life which we may take advantage of when delivering a service to a customer. It is essentially an opportunity to remain at the forefront of emerging technology.

The consequences of the space race between the USA and Soviet Union spawned unprecedented technology that is still in use today; from scratch resistant lenses to cordless power tools and even CAT and MRI scanner technologies so often seen in hospitals across the globe.

Whilst the emphasis on space ventures is usually focused on engineering developments rather than technological advancements, there is a growing interest in how IT can contribute to this advancing field. A quick look over the summer 2011 ‘Space Mission Challenges’ agenda shows the growing importance of Information technologies in this field e.g. Software Architectures & Tools, Science Software Applications, Smart Instruments and Flight Computing to name a few.

With the diminishment in government funding, space travel must become more efficient and rely on private investments to replace funds. As a general rule of thumb, when private investment replaces Government investment, you can usually bet the results to be fairly innovative- at the very least see improved efficiency. If private investments do indeed result in increased efficiency, commercial space travel will become more affordable and thus more popular, leading to increased competition in this industry. As the industry grows and develops, it could be a great opportunity for an IT company to find a niche to fit into.

The potential Space tourism industry is certainly an interesting field to keep an eye on. These days commercial anything is usually a sure way to make some return. Scientists from the ‘50s believed that by the turn of the century, lunar hotels would be a thing of reality and families could spend their holidays on the moon. Although we haven’t quite got there just yet, in the words of Konstantin Tsiolkovsk, “human occupation of space is inevitable.” So the question to ask is, what role should we play in this?

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About Mike Smith
Chief Technology Officer, Atos Distinguished Expert, Founding member of the Atos Scientific Community
Mike has been in the IT industry for over 20 years, designing and implementing complex infrastructures that underpin key Government and private sector solutions. Setting Atos technical strategy, researching new technologies and supporting the consulting and architect communities. Previously Mike has held technical and management positions in British Rail, Sema Group and Schlumberger. He has a daughter and a son, both keen on anything but technology. Mike's sporting passion rests with Test Match Special, and is jealous/proud of his son's Ice Hockey skills.

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