August 18, 2015
It was an impressive evening. More than 550 delegates and guests gathered in the magnificent St George’s Hall in Liverpool on Tuesday 14 July for what must be the grandest UK Space Conference (UKSC) Gala Dinner and Sir Arthur Clarke Awards Ceremony ever. After a champagne reception on the huge pillared veranda, everyone filed into the enormous hall, sumptuously decorated and lit with purple and blue spots with UKSC logos flying over the beautiful ceiling, to find their named places on the glowing candle-lit tables.
Following a short welcome by Jeremy Curtis, Chair of the UKSC Organising Committee and Head of Education and Skills at the UK Space Agency, during which he introduced the new UKSA Spacesuit, the food and wine started to flow. Then the audio-visual system kicked in and Dr. Mark McCaughrean, Senior Science Adviser at ESA, used some of his amazing video material to illustrate his talk on the Rosetta Philae mission to intercept and land on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. He went from science fiction to science fact and back to children’s cartoons and aliens. It was all there, but to me as an engineer, Rosetta and Philae still stole the show with their incredibly clear images of the comet and the landing site and the sheer tense excitement of Philae’s descent and rather hazardous landing – and there’s more to come.
It was also a tense time for 30 or so of our guests, the finalists of the 2015 Sir Arthur Clarke Awards. Jeremy Curtis reminded us that the Awards had been presented every year since 2005 and were designed to recognise and reward those teams and individuals that had made notable or outstanding achievements in, or contributions to, all space activities over the past year. We were particularly pleased and privileged to have Rob Douglas, Chairman of the UK Space Agency to announce the Awards and Helen Sharman, the UK’s First Astronaut, to ‘open the envelopes’ and present the Sir Arthur Clarke Monoliths to each of the Award winners.
First up was the Industry/Project Team Award with three very strong contenders, but the Beagle 2 team, represented by Prof Mark Simms, Leicester University, and Dr Jim Clemmet, ex Beagle 2Chief Engineer at Astrium, won for Beagle 2’s now-likely proven landing on Mars, against the UK industry XMM 4 Wheel Drive Team for its effective ‘patch’ and Oxford Space Systems for its new deployable structures. Next up was the Industry/Project Individual Award where William Marshall, founder of Planet Labs in San Francisco pipped Space-X’s Elon Musk and his Falcon 9 launcher to the post. Then it was the turn of two finalists both unusually from Strathclyde University to compete for the Academic Study/Research Award. The Stardust Team, represented by Chiara Tardoli and Clemens Rumpf, was rewarded for its research on debris and asteroid monitoring, over Prof. Massimiliano Vasile, the architect of the Stardust network.
Three exceptionally deserving finalists were announced for the Education and Outreach Award. Mike Grocott, Principal of the Space Studio School, Banbury and the Raspberry Pi Foundation represented by Lance Howarth, Dave Honess and Eben Upton, who created and donated the Astro Pi package for Tim Peake’s ISS flight, were pitched against the Rosetta/Philae Outreach Team led of course by Mark McCaughrean. He predictably walked away with the award. The Student Award was also keenly fought, but the MSC Student Outreach Team from Kings College London, represented by David Green, Kristen Shafer and Dalbir Singh were overjoyed at their win. Eleni Antoniadou, University College London and the Time Continuum Team from Queen Ethelburgas School in Harrogate represented by Tom Moss, the youngest finalist, were runners up.
Richard Hollingham received the Media Award for his work on BBC Future. Virtual Astronomer, the popular astronomy blogger, and Robin Brand, author of the Story of Skylark, were the other finalists. The Lifetime Award saw recently retired ESA Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, competing with Professor Constantinos Stavrinidis, long-time Head of ESA’s Mechanical Engineering Department at ESTEC, and Professor J.L. Culhane, world-renowned X-ray astronomer and solar physicist at the Mullard Space Science Laboratories, who won the award. Finally the Board of the Sir Arthur Clarke Foundation itself selected, in competition with the UKSA’s own Council of Ministers 2014 (CMIN14) Team, Dr. Burton I. Edelson for the International Award. Dr. Edelson who had developed the first communications satellites in the 1960s and, as NASA’s Associate Administrator, played a key role in the Hubble Space Telescope, sadly died in January 2002.
The glittering and prestigious evening was finally brought to a fitting close by BIS Fellow Alan Cross singing beautifully a wide range of appropriate songs including ‘Fly me to the Moon’. It will certainly be a hard act to follow.