Lost and found & talking space travel at Cambridge University
28 October 2015
HERE was I from Papua New Guinea sitting in a coach with colleagues from 11 other countries on our way to Cambridge University, one of the oldest and most renowned educational institutions in the United Kingdom.
It was founded in 1209 and has 32 colleges. Of particular interest to us journalists was Magdalene College, where we headed straight for the Pepys Library to view archival material on the development of shorthand.
But I was not there to hear the Assistant Librarian give the briefing because, like any fool who strays from the main group, I was lost in the grounds of this ancient university with students from all over the world.
Some of these found me wandering perplexed through the narrow corridors and showed me the way to the Pepys Library. When I finally pushed through the door, sweating profusely that summer afternoon, the briefing had just ended.
After getting off the coach, the group had walked towards the library in one of the buildings. On the way I had stopped to extract my Olympus camera and take a picture of a particularly impressive edifice.
In the few seconds I was looking through the viewfinder, my colleagues had vanished down one of the countless corridors. To complicate the situation there were 12,000 students crowding all sorts of narrow passageways in a flow of constant movement.
At Cambridge, about one-third of the students are women and about 10% from 90 countries outside the UK. I didn’t have the time to find out whether there were there any from PNG. What with all that getting lost.
In 1969, my primary school teacher told us about American astronaut Neil Armstrong who was the first man to walk on the moon. The teacher showed us pictures from Time magazine of Armstrong on the lunar surface.
Nearly two decades later, I heard about him again along with Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and by then Senator John Glenn who were on a steering committee of the US government’s Columbus 500 Commission.
This commission accepted spacecraft designs from around the world that could race beyond the Moon to Mars to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas.
Cambridge Consultants Ltd (CCL), a global co- occupant of Cambridge Science Park, was the only UK-based company to put forward an entry.
CCL’s design looked like a huge manta ray and was described by planners as the most advanced technical design of all worldwide entries submitted. It was named Nina, after one of the ships in the Columbus fleet.
Nina was to be powered by solar energy alone on the trip to Mars.
A circular sail 250 meters in diameter, folded into a cylinder small enough to be stowed in a conventional rocket, was to be deployed after launch and power the spacecraft to Mars.
Chief designer of the spacecraft, Steve Temple, told me that one reason the team was successful was because CCL had such a wide variety of resources and technical expertise.
“They all contributed their knowledge to meet the many challenges the design posed,” he said.
The Science Park had been opened in 1975, the year PNG attained its independence.
I don’t know if that huge space sail made it to Mars but it was a pleasure for me to visit the place where the idea was hatched.
I had been lost and found and had some interesting chat. All had turned out well. What more could I ask for?
The astronaut will be from milne bay. Before Armstrong landed on the moon, the moon was down here on earth. Milne bay (maybe only the Dobuans) legends had been told that a woman kept the moon and used it in her garden as light to work at night, until her niece and nephew found her. She put them on the moon and shoood them up to the sky as punishment.
Posted by: Doreen Bauloni | 29 October 2015 at 10:26 AM
It was amazing also to visit Flag Fen where an ancient Bronze age community had once lived. And how a Roman road had been built over it.
Amazing how man's knowledge increased over millenia to establish higher learning institutions like Cambridge.., Oxford, Havard etc. Issac Newton had lived and worked at Cambridge.
It is interesting how PNG has skipped the Bronze Age and the Iron Age to be suddenly introduced to the space-age straight from the stone-age. Kiaps and early missionaries ought to be thanked and remembered.
And why not, it is possible a Papua New Guinean can one day train as an astonaut. It is better to live in hope. Who knows what will happen in the future?
Posted by: Daniel Ipan Kumbon | 28 October 2015 at 05:47 PM
Re the possibility of a PNG Astronaut:
Looks like there are a few people who would like to send Peter O'Neill to the moon Chris.
I guess he's have to loose a bit of "weight" first though - wouldn't want to inflict that sort of baggage on the Moonians.
Posted by: Phil Fitzpatrick | 28 October 2015 at 12:24 PM
I first went to PNG in mid 1969, just in time to miss the telecast of Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon.
My reaction was one of amazement: an impossible dream had been realised within a mere 10 years of President Kennedy challenging the US to go to the moon.
It would be fair to say that most Papua New Guineans of that time either did not know about the moon landing or, when told about it, were frankly disbelieving.
With hindsight, I can hardly blame them: nothing in their traditional life and belief systems could accommodate such an event.
At this time, if you had asked me if any Papua New Guinean would be wandering around the dreaming spires of Cambridge University anytime soon, I would have speculated that this would not happen in my lifetime.
Such a view would have been completely uncontroversial amongst my fellow kiaps: PNG was barely out of the stone age and the pressing need was to ensure the rule of law, promote economic development and introduce basic schooling and health care, not engage in fanciful thinking about sending people to Cambridge.
Yet here we are, 46 years later, and Daniel Kumbon (no doubt along with many others) has proved that I was utterly wrong.
I have to say that I am extremely pleased to be wrong: it is a marvellous thing that a bright Papua New Guinean man or woman can now dream of going to Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard or even to work with NASA.
I envy Daniel his moment lost in the halls of Cambridge, an experience I am yet to have.
Perhaps, one day, there will be a Papua New Guinean Astronaut? Why not? Anything seems possible now.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 28 October 2015 at 12:04 PM