OPINION: Is Norfolk's new enterprise a waste of space?

Elon Musk's SpaceX launching - Keith wonders how much that would cost to fill at the pumps...

Elon Musk's SpaceX launching - Keith wonders how much that would cost to fill at the pumps... - Credit: Zuma Press/PA Images

Now that’s what I call proper Norfolk cussedness .. Nelson’s County is being urged to venture into space just when far too much of it is disappearing down here below!

I thought it must be an early April Fool jape hatched by crafty developers and estate agents on hearing about plans to aim even higher than our crazy current cost of living in order to land “millions of pounds" for economic growth to boldly go where it’s never turned up before.

I’m all for Enterprise – or any other star ship designed to lift us way above the dreadful mess we’re making of our own planet - but this is hardly the time or place for such heavenly gallivanting. What on earth will rocket fuel cost at the pumps when lift-off beckons?

Nor am I without a serious grounding in the potential benefits, risks and excitement of high-rise travel after being weaned on wireless winners like Journey Into Space in the 1950s, the last radio programme to attract a bigger audience than television, along with the serious comic capers of Dan Dare, The Eagle’s Pilot of the Future.

Then I also recall gravitating towards my grammar school library to devour First Men in the Moon by HG Wells in one sitting. Even so, I own up to much preferring the same author’s History of Mr Polly, dealing with earthy escapades of an Edwardian drop-out. John Mills brought him to vibrant life in one of my favourite films.

There are distinct echoes as well of old Norfolk sons of the soil scanning black and white skies and blaming “them Sputniks and space shuffles” for upsetting traditional weather patterns around corn harvest time. Perhaps they really did see climate change on the horizon.

Our area, of course, is spoilt for choice when it comes to suggesting a likely space-race headquarters. We have old airfields in abundance packed with memories of wartime action, much of it alongside Americans. There’s likely to be support for Pulham St Mary in south Norfolk regarding the right sort of pioneering spirit to handle such a location honour.

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An airship station was built there during the First World War -  The Air Ministry posted dirigible airships armed with machine guns and bombs to attack German boats. They became known as “Pulham Pigs” because of their shape. By end of the war the Royal Navy had acquired a fleet of about 100 airships and it wasn’t until 1919 they came under RAF control.

The R33 airship broke away from her Pulham moorings on April 16, 1925 – and hit the world headlines. A howling gale made normal handling difficult for a skeleton crew on board and arrangements were made in Germany and Holland in case a forced landing was necessary after crossing the North Sea. But she managed to return to Pulham where volunteers came out in force to help end a 29-hour unscheduled flight.

The R101 disaster just over five years later brought airship development in Britain to an end although RAF Pulham had a role to play until closure in 1957.The R101 crashed in northern France on October 5, 1930, on what was to have been her maiden flight to India. Of 54 people on board, only six survived the inferno.

Fast forward to this emerging springtime of fresh hope, albeit seriously tempered by rocketing prices, falling standards, global uncertainty and a strong impression those with their heads in the clouds are seeing an entirely different future than those happy to keep feet firmly on the ground.

We are assured by New Anglia Local Enterprise (LEP), which works with businesses and councils to drive economic growth in Norfolk and Suffolk, that potential is here to attract more companies involved with the space platform and huge sums of government money.

A space sector consultant will be hired “to bring in crucial expertise to maximise the opportunities.” Perhaps we ought to prepare ourselves for “One giant LEP for East Anglia” headlines before too long instead of sticking rigidly to a firm belief that the space race in this part of the world basically means frantically searching for a Bank Holiday parking spot in Cromer, Wells and Southwold.

I’ve been chatting to several bright friends who fancy themselves as prospective boffins to help out if and when Norfolk hits the juicy jackpot and becomes a key player in reaching for the skies. The more poetic and puckish among them suggest Docking Castle Rising and Beeston Bump must be leading candidates to host a spaceport for launching duties.

One notes a small settlement not far from Thetford could serve as Breckland’ s call centre in the event of any mishaps … stand by for the message: Euston, we have a problem!.”

While falling short of volunteering themselves to pilot Norfolk’s first rocket into space, they do offer useful ideas for the authentically Norfolk name of such a vehicle. The Trosher, Suffingornabowt (hitherto employed as shorthand for our most common medical complaint) and Rumole dew are among early favourites.

I have a soft spot for The Eradicated Coypu, if only to serve as a pertinent reminder that some things don’t come back., and Hev Yew Gotta Loight. Boy? in honour of The Singing Postman, someone who took the Norfolk Sound to places it had never been before.