Unified theory

Should we collaborate on large engineering projects in space? Should we work together on large engineering projects on earth? Dave Wilson weighs up the pros and cons.

‘When in doubt, take over the solar system.’ – Ferengi Proverb.<br>

In last week’s editorial epistle, I questioned the need for two missions to Mars – one European and one US – rather than one unified endeavour that would globally pool our efforts in space to develop one single probe.

The editorial drew a plethora of responses from our readers. Notably, one Mr. Clark wrote to disagree with my ‘Star Trek’ philosophy, highlighting the fact that because each one of the Martian probes would have sampled a completely different area of the surface, it would have nearly doubled our chances of finding ‘something’ on the red planet. That’s if both of them had worked, of course.

Clearly, he is correct and I was wrong. A collaborative engineering approach is wrong and a competitive approach brings more benefits to mankind.

And if the co-operative approach to research doesn’t cut the mustard in space, why should it work any better on earth?

The answer is that it wouldn’t. So thank goodness for US Secretary of State Spencer Abraham who stuck his nuclear Stars and Stripes firmly into the ground at Rokkasho by endorsing Japan as the USA’s preference for the ITER international fusion experiment this week.

Without his inopportune comments, made at a time when the other ITER combatants are still dithering about where to drop the nuke, perhaps the French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin would never have suggested that Europe should consider building an ITER fusion reactor of its own if the ITER experiment goes to Japan.

Let’s hope this is the case. Let’s hope there are two. Because if we build more than one of these reactors, we could unlock the mystery of nuclear fusion in half the time it would take us if we just had one. Just like we nearly did in space, had the Beagle barked.

And that, of course, would have been my 20 cents worth on the subject. Until I received a memo yesterday from my colleague Matt Swift who informed me that our own company – Centaur Communications – has just launched a show that’s aimed at Collaborative Engineering.

In light of my previous revelations about Mars and nuclear fusion, you might be forgiven in thinking that this idea is not such a very hot potato.

But think again. It might just be that it’s the politicians and not the engineers who can’t seem to work together. After all, engineers have always formed highly successful multinational collaborations, sometimes even while located in countries at war with one another!

By sharing knowledge, engineers transcend and usually put to shame the petty political goals of their governments. Let’s hope the success of Matt’s upcoming show in April reflects that fact.