Stars, cars and feeding the world

While the long-term future of the US manned space programme is far from certain, NASA is currently pressing ahead with tentative plans to put astronauts back on the moon by 2020. A key step on this journey will be taken tomorrow when the Ares 1X Rocket – that will ultimately carry the successor to the Space Shuttle into orbit – undergoes its first flight test. The unmanned flight test will last for two-and-half minutes and provide NASA with an opportunity to test and prove the flight characteristics of the new rocket.

Meanwhile, back down on earth, agribusiness experts, food scientists and engineers will gather in Rotterdam at the world food technology innovation forum to address a more pressing issue: how to feed the human race. With climate change, competing pressures on land use, and spiraling populations conspiring to make food production a hugely worrying issue, engineering and technology will play a growing role in addressing this worrying state of affairs. The event follows the announcement earlier this month that the UK’s Technology Strategy Broad will invest up to £75M over the next five years in innovative technological research and development in areas such as crop productivity, sustainable livestock production, and waste reduction.

On a lighter note (quite literally), a Cambridge University designed solar powered car sets off on the global green challenge, a brutal 3,000km race across the Australian outback from Darwin to Adelaide that kicks of this week. Talking to The Engineer earlier this year the leader of Cambridge’s Eco Racing team (CUER) Anthony Law warned that driving the 110km/h solar-powered vehicle – dubbed Endeavour – will be a pretty draining experience. ‘The driver’s only job is to steer, and there is just one right turn at Alice Springs. He or she will be sitting there making minor adjustments and trying to stay awake, and the temperatures inside the solar car can get up to about 50°C.’

Jon Excell
Deputy Editor