Neither Sir Fred Hoyle nor Chandra Wickramasinghe could possibly be described as cranks. Scientifically qualified up to their eyeballs, eminent in fields such as astrobiology and the Big Bang Theory, they together penned a 1979 book which caused a considerable amount of controversy. Its title was Diseases In Space, the essence of which was that diseases which afflict humans have extraterrestrial sources. The likes of the flu and the common cold result from "pathogenic patches" that fall from space.
Subsequently, in 2003 Professor Wickramasinghe and others (Fred Hoyle had died in 2001) presented the case for the SARS outbreak having been extraterrestrial in origin. As with the previous work, the scientific community rejected this idea out of hand, and my own instinct - based, it has to be said, on absolutely no understanding of the science - is that the scientific community was right to reject it. Nevertheless, the latest virus has meant that space as the bringer of disease is being revisited (not least by Professor Wickramasinghe), with the scientific community basically saying don't be so daft, even if you are eminent in your astrobiological field.
Space, to mean both up there and down here on our part of the Earth, has become a topic of debate because of the crisis. If not space dust and whatever microorganisms it contains that can cause a pandemic, then how about Richard Branson? How about him indeed? Well, we know what Michael O'Leary thinks:
"This is Branson's second go at trying to fleece the British taxpayer for state aid ... If he's worried about Virgin, he should write the cheque himself. It's not like he's short of money, his Virgin Galactic investment is worth about 1.3 billion today. And so sitting in the Virgin Islands as a tax exile, asking the British government to bail you out when you have more than sufficient resources to bail out Virgin Atlantic yourself is not something, I believe, which should be considered."
Don't mince your words, Michael, although maybe that 1.3 billion for Virgin Galactic doesn't today look so excessive. If Earth tourism isn't too safe, then perhaps space tourism could be heading for a boom time. There again, perhaps not, if one takes Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe at their word. One would assume that the viral load of whatever organisms eventually fall as pathogenic patches is heavier up in space. Is there life on Mars? No, because SARS killed it off.
More grounded, very much more grounded, there is the space that is all around us down here. There are acres of it at the moment. Vast empty spaces, where man fears to tread as man might have his collar felt from a safe distance by a copper with a pair of blue gloves. But when the time comes and it is safe to go out, how will space be treated?
Several years ago, I recall the argument being advanced for ensuring greater space between people on beaches. Or rather, it was an environmentalist argument regarding beach capacity. Quite simply, there were too many people going to the beaches. More recently, there has been similar talk - this time from the environment ministry - in respect of beaches in the Mondragó Nature Park.
Yet this talk, which boils down to the notion of limits to the number of people on beaches, neglects one important factor which is held dear to those who agree with the environmentalist case for limits - the public domain and the right of all Spaniards to have free and unfettered access to the coasts and beaches.
For very different reasons, beach capacity is back on the agenda. There will be the need for space between people on beaches. As noted previously, I don't know how this can be enforced, while there is another potential consideration. Will space on beaches become more occupied and not less? I'm thinking about the providers of the beach services with their sunlounger and parasol sets. They are going to be taking a massive hit this year. So are town halls, who might think about still demanding payment for concessions but would be very wrong to do so. The concession holders will need to recoup losses. Might this be by having more sunloungers? Even if they don't, social distancing, which most likely will apply next year, will mean that the sunloungers have to take up more beach space.
Then there are the terraces. How ironic it truly is that Palma town hall is now looking at increasing terrace sizes. For the past five years, terraces have been subject to reductions in size, reductions in the number of tables and chairs, and the removal of enclosures. Now, there is a need for ever more space; not less.
Space is being redefined, while up in space no one can hear you scream if you are infected by a SARS pathogenic patch.
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