Naturally they cheered at Filton when she leapt from the runway. The HOTOL prototype, named “Anastasia” after a public campaign, cut through the sky over the Bristol Channel propelled by her Rolls Royce RB545 Swallows. The noise was indescribable, but few complained as they watched the long white space plane take her union flag painted wings briefly into space on her first sub-orbital test run, a quick dash over the western approaches to announce to the world what had been achieved.
Such was my ten year old mind’s day dream back in the late 80s.
I had watched the tragedy of Challenger, been hooked to the drama of Giotto, poured over the pictures being sent earthwards by the Voyagers and now here was the ultimate for a young fan of Colonel Dare, British Aerospace were designing a space-plane.
And what a plane. It made the shuttle look dumpy and outdated. Here, finally, was that comic book rocket. It would be powered by Rolls Royce engines (naturally), would fly from a runway, nothing would fall off or parachute down, no fuel tank would burn up after use. Here was the 100% reusable, jet powered space plane that Spacefleet battled the Mekon with in the 1950s.
Then it happened.
I discovered that the British Space program is myth.
It was crushing.
I was growing up in a country where opposition to manned space flight was government policy. I was two decades too late, Britain had done space. We had built our rockets, launched one satellite and then walked away from the future. I was baffled, suddenly it all seemed so uninspiring, all the space launchers were someone else’s, all the astronauts wore other flags. Those pictures of HOTOL were no more real than any picture in Eagle or 2000AD.
Ok, so we build satellites; by all accounts we are world leaders. But then these aren’t probes exploring other worlds. We tried that once and we all know how that ended. Earth survey, communications, navigation. If you are in the market for satellites to support your nations infrastructure then Surrey appears to be the place to shop.
But try inspiring a ten year old with accurate and timely logistics. Today we are still no further along. The UK is a bit part player in the European Space Agency, the government still has a declared policy that will not fund manned space. We have the UK Space Agency which is a quantum leap over BNSC but it’s budget of just over £200 Million is less than the cost of a single Shuttle launch.
And on a drawing board in Oxfordshire, underfunded and ignored sits another daughter of the Anastasia that will probably never meet it’s pilot of the future.