Steve Connor: Science Notebook

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The Independent Online

I must be the only person on the planet who can't get excited about Richard Branson's new venture to take fee-paying passengers into "space". Probably because it's not the sort of trip I imagined from reading Dan Dare comics. Instead of exotic places filled with unusual aliens – and we're not talking Faliraki – he is offering the chance to sit in a capsule for a minute or so at an altitude just high enough to qualify as space.

True, you will be able to view the delicately thin atmosphere your carbon-hungry sight-seeing trip has just helped to destroy. But hey, this is boldly going where no ordinary man has gone before – except that you soon land in the same place you took off from.

For the super-rich, a £100,000 ticket will be nothing to the luxury of knowing you have personally, and selfishly, verified the existence and beauty of the life-support system on which we all depend. Rather like seeing Rome from Nero's villa.

It was a surprise to see that James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory, is to be one of Branson's first passengers, along with Stephen Hawking. Jim is a bit of hero of mine, being a maverick scientist who eschewed convention, so it was disappointing to see that he has succumbed to Branson's charm.

For his part, Branson says his spaceship is environmentally-friendly, but unless he's invented an anti-gravity device I cannot see how he can justify this, especially if he takes thousands of well-heeled sightseers to the space hotel he dreams of.

Programmed to roam?

Talking of trips to far-away places, we are now being told about the joys of staying at home. Some bright spark has even invented a name for it – a "staycation". I wonder whether it will catch on, given that we seem to have a gene for nomadism.

Humans are African primates with a physiology suited to a warm savannah climate. When they took their first trips out of Africa about 100,000 years ago, our ancestors presumably had to migrate with the seasons – or be frozen in some Siberian outpost. Perhaps our annual migration is a modern re-enactment of this, brought on by the realisation that there is just one thing worse than a Siberian winter – an English summer.

Metropolitan lagoon

A tropical lagoon filled with weird and wonderful creatures. This was London 50 million years ago, say scientists from the Natural History Museum, who point out that the tectonic shifts in the Earth's crust will continue into the future. Which only goes to show: stay in one place long enough and the weather will come to you.

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