Oral history of British science

Parkinson, Bob (Part 7 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering; Space Science and Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Parkinson, Bob, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: Detailed comments on scientific methods: difference between science and engineering, analysing data using computers, tying theory to practical, 1970s heat transfer work, BP recognising limitations of existing theory, testing theories with data and experiments, scientific spacecraft, [08:45] BP's use of computer modelling, legacy of work in computer programming. [11:05] Comments on early experiences using computers, importance for his work, changes in computer technology, impact of spreadsheets. [14:45] Comments on interaction with other colleagues: chatting in computer queue; helping people in other departments; coffee club; earlier group stopping for tea every morning; distributed nature of other departments at Westcott limiting interaction; informal networks. [21:45] Remarks on: relations with military users of products through formal arrangements; traceability of products; work of post design service mainly fielding outside queries; story about BP working on analysis of a Red Top missile accident. [26:40] Comments on involvement with BIS: member since teenager, fellow at time of PhD; Barry Ricketson getting him involved with council; BIS offering opportunity to work on space, which work denied him; disillusionment with space exploration post-Apollo 1972; talk on the ambitious early plans for space shuttle by George Morrow, before programme was scaled back; American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics becoming conservative, leading to BIS policy to support forward thinking; [33:25] Ken Gatland, editor of 'Spaceflight', seeking forward thinking articles. [33:55] Comments on project Daedalus: project to consider practicality of interstellar flight; BP suggestions to AB that mission wouldn't stop at other end; AB and Tony Martin work in nuclear energy; similarity to project Orion, nuclear bomb powered spacecraft devised by Freeman Dyson; assembly of a team; meeting in pub at Aston-Clinton; details of Deuterium and Helium 3 fuel and propulsion arrangement, leading to myth of Helium 3 being available for fuel on surface of moon; [41:35] BP contribution of idea of collecting Helium 3 from Jupiter using a balloon, which also entered mythology of space-flight, with example of use by Dan Golding; plausibility and time-scale of project, with reference to Ed Stone spending 40 years working on the Voyager project; Fermi's paradox, over why extraterrestrials haven't already visited us. [48:00] Comments on extraterrestrial life: importance of open mind; agreeing with Carl Sagan over vital importance of decisive evidence, with reference to Colin Pillinger's book on life on Mars; scientific approach to question of extraterrestrial intelligence; parallels to global warming debate; distortion of science my media and political attention; [54:40] BPs explanation for Enrico Fermi's paradox; importance of taking change into account when talking about the future. [1:00:35] Comments on difference between science fiction and Daedalus style scientific speculation, importance of debate and peer review.

  • Description

    Interview with aerospace engineer Dr Bob Parkinson.

  • Related transcripts

    Dr Bob Parkinson interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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