Life on Mars

NASA has recently successfully landed the Mars Rover Opportunity on the planet’s surface and this brilliant piece of engineering has already started sending back high definition pictures of the Red Plant.

But if Lord Young had managed to get his South Bank project off the ground it could have been on the banks of the Thames and not Houston that was leading the way in Martian space exploration.

[M]ichael Young proposed to build a simulated Martian colony on the site of the decommissioned Bankside Power Station. The Argo Venture had some serious advocates; Young had already started the Open University and The Consumers Association and his Martian adventure gained the support of distinguished scientists James Lovelock (one of the first to research global warming) and Martin Rees (who is now President of the Royal Society).

He had persuaded the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board to donate the power station and Southwark Council to allow planning permission for a property tycoon to develop the surrounding land in return for building the ‘Martian colony’.

It was in effect a Big Brother 15 years before Channel 4 came up with the idea. Putting a group of individuals in an enclosed environment to see how they would react to having to live in such close proximity to each other over an extended period of time. This would be made into a BBC documentary, which in addition to the scientific benefits was expected to kick start international support for the actual colonisation of Mars.

He also planned to establish a British Space Museum and set up a National Space Agency. Having persuaded the BBC to film a documentary of the experiment the project foundered when Margaret Thatcher’s government decided to privatise the Central Electricity Generating Board preventing Bankside Power Station being given over to the enterprise.

NASA might have won the space race to Mars but London has gained an internationally famous gallery of modern art, and Lord Young’s vision of a British Space Museum has subsequently been established in Leicester.

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