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AT midnight East Africa Time (2100 GMT) on 9 July 2011 the world welcomed a brand new country, The Republic of South Sudan.

The flag of South Sudan. Black represents the people, white represents peace, red represents the blood shed for freedom, green represents the land and blue represents the Nile. The gold star of Bethlehem represents unity of the states in South Sudan.

The Emblem of South Sudan. The Eagle signifies: strength, resilience and vision. The shield and spears represent protection of the state.

South Sudan had existed as an autonomous part of Sudan for on-and-off periods in between the civil wars between the Arabic/Muslim North and African/Christian South. But when Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil war (over 20 years in duration and 1.5 million people – mainly civilians through starvation – dead) ended with a peace agreement. Said agreement offered the people of the South of Africa’s largest nation* a chance to vote in a referendum on independence.

This referendum was held in early January 2011, with a landslide result in favour of independence. Out of the 3,837,406 valid votes cast, 3,792,518 (98.83%) were for separation.

The ballot paper as used in the referendum.

The new map of the two Sudans.

The President of Sudan (which is still called Sudan and not ‘North Sudan’), Omar al-Bashir (who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the Darfur conflict in Western Sudan) accepted the result and vowed to let the South go peacefully. Well as peacefully as possible when the two nations were in dispute over the oil rich areas which now cross their boarder. The South accused the North of bombing the Abyei region a month before they seceded, but I believe the U.N. bashed their heads together and the two nations will continue to split the oil profits 50-50, just as they did in the six years between the end of the civil war in 2005 and the South’s independence.

On Independence Day itself, people of all walks of South Sudanese life partied in the streets like it was 1999. In the capital city, Juba, a large sign read: “Congratulations, free at last, South Sudan.” State TV played the new national anthem ‘South Sudan Oyee!’ which had won the national competition to be the new nation’s anthem in honour of the occasion. It was written by students and teachers of Juba University and had been played on the Radio for weeks so as the population could learn the words.

In a ceremony later that day, the Speaker of the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, James Wani Igga, proclaimed his nations independence and
the flag of Sudan was lowered, replaced by the flag of South Sudan. The first elected President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit stood with President al-Bashir before proudly showing the state’s new constitution to his people.

The two Sudan Presidents, President Kiir Mayardit (L.)with President al-Bashir (R.).

President Kiir Mayardit with the Constitution of South Sudan.

A statue of John Garang was also unveiled to the delight of the crowd who had gathered for the most popular divorce of the year. Garang was the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (the South Sudan Army) in the civil war and is regarded as the father of the nation. He died in a helicopter crash just six months after peace was declared.

Father of the nation, John Garang.

As part of the celebrations, the South Sudan Football team made their debut against one of Kenya’s top clubs, Nairobi’s Tusker FC (who represented Kenya itself) in Juba Stadium. South Sudan took the lead within the first ten minutes thanks to a James Joseph goal, but the Bright Stars went on to lose 1-3. South Sudan’s Basketball team also made their debut when Uganda came to Juba on the same day. I have yet to find the result of the match.

On 14 July 2011, after a meeting of the U.N. general assembly, South Sudan was elected as the 193rd United Nations member state. The last new member state was Montenegro on 28 June 2006.

South Sudan has applied to join the Commonwealth of Nations and plans to apply for membership of the African Union soon as well as the East
African Community, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is also eligible to be in the Arab League should the government so wish, but personally I can’t see this happening.

There is also no doubt about South Sudan soon becoming a member of the major African and global sporting organisations such as the International Olympic Committee, FIFA and CAF (Confederation of African Football).

But looking into the future, South Sudan is going to need all the help that it can get. The Horn of Africa (which South Sudan boarders) is currently in a draught that is being called the biggest ‘humanitarian disaster in the world’ by the U.N. and South Sudan is felling its effects.

South Sudan is also one of the world’s least developed countries and its health facilities are some of the worst on Earth. The under-5 mortality rate is 112 per 1,000, while the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world at 2,053.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. At times in the past, there has only been one doctor per 500,000 people. More than 90% of the population live on less than $1 (63p) per day. And according to UNICEF, less than 1% of girls complete primary school education in South Sudan. Girls who do attend school are outnumbered 1:4 by their male counterparts, but many children under-13 aren’t in school anyway. South Sudan also has the highest female illiteracy rate in the world at 84%.

However I’m determined not to end on a downer.


Population = 7.5-9.7 million. 8.2 million at last census in 2008, 94th in world in between U.A.E. and Honduras.

Land Area = 619,745Km2 (239,285 sq mi), 45th in world between C.A.R. and Ukraine. *Algeria is now the largest nation in Africa, the DR Congo is now second largest, then Sudan. South Sudan is larger than Spain and Portugal combined.

Official language = English (all indigenous languages recognised).

Currency = Sudanese Pound (SDG).

Time Zone = East Africa Time (EAT), UTC+3.

Borders = Ethiopia to the East, Kenya to the South-East, Uganda to the South, DR Congo to the South-West, Central African
Republic (C.A.R.) to the West, and Sudan to the North.

National Anthem = South Sudan Oyee!

TODAY (12 July 2011) the gas-giant planet Neptune celebrates its first birthday.

Neptune, the Birthday boy.

The (now) most distant planet in our solar system was officially discovered by German astronomers Johann Gottfried Galle and Heinrich Louis d’Arrest at the Berlin observatory on the night of 23 September 1846.



The pair followed the calculations made by Englishman John Couch Adams and Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier, who had studied the orbit of the then last planet (Uranus) and calculated that another large object nearby was having an effect on the planet’s orbit.

Couch Adams.

Le Verrier.

Following the Anglo-French calculations, the German pair saw Neptune in almost exactly the right place after only an hour of work. This was the first (and now officially only time) that a planet in our solar system was discovered on purpose.

Now exactly 164.79 Earth years later, one Neptunian year has elapsed. The planet is in the very same place that it was discovered all those years ago.

1846 was the year the Texas state government was installed, the Corn Laws were repealed, the Saxophone and sewing machine were patented, the 49th Parallel boarder between America and Canada was established and Pope Pius IX began the longest papacy in history.

Neptune, named after the Roman God of the sea, is famous for having the fastest recorded wind speeds of any planet in the solar system with speeds of 1,200-mph (1,930-kmph) being clocked on the planet’s surface. The record for fastest wind speed recorded on Earth is a meagre 301ish-mph.

The eighth planet is on average 4.5 billion Km (2.8 billion miles) from the Sun, just over 30-times further away from the Sun than the Earth is. This means surface temperatures are as low as -218˚C (-360˚F, 55K).

With a mean radius of 24,622Km Neptune is around four times larger than Earth and is 17-times more massive (even more massive than Uranus) than Earth, despite not having a solid surface – the atmosphere of Neptune is 80% hydrogen, 19% helium and trace amounts of methane.

There are 13 known moons of Neptune, the most well known of which is Triton. Triton was discovered only 17 days after Neptune and is the only large moon in the solar system to orbit its planet backwards (the opposite direction to which the planet rotates). The theory that I believe is correct for why this is, states that Triton was a Kuiper belt object (like Pluto) that strayed too close to Neptune and was captured by its gravitational pull. It has fascinated astronomers for years because it has frozen nitrogen on its surface and is one of the few moons in the solar system to be geologically active.


Unfortunately due to how far away Neptune is from Earth, we have only visited it once. That was back in 1989 when the legendary Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by it and Triton on 25 August 1989, taking the definitive picture of Neptune (above).

Voyager 2 and Neptune.

So happy first birthday Neptune, and what better way is there to celebrate a planet’s birthday than by playing their piece from Holst’s The Planets?

THE XXIII Winter Olympic Games will be held from 9-25 February 2018 in… the South Korean city of Pyeongchang!

Pyeongchang (population 47,000), approx. 180Km (111-miles) East of the South Korean capital Seoul (host city for the Summer Games in 1988) saw off competition from Munich (Germany) and Annecy (France) to win the rights to host a Winter Games at the third time of trying.

The result of the vote was announced late at night in South Korea, but that hasn’t stopped people partying.

Pyeongchang was edged out by Vancouver (Canada) by just three votes (56:53) in the final round of voting for the 2010 Winter Games after the South Korean city obtained 11 more votes than Vancouver in the first round. There was further disappointment when Sochi (Russia) beat Pyeongchang by only four votes (51:47) in the final round for the 2014 host city after the South Korean city had again won the first round.

But on this occasion, at the 123rd IOC Session in Durban (South Africa) there was only the need for one round of voting. Pyeongchang won 63 (two-thirds) of the 95 votes cast while Munich had 25 votes, with Annecy getting only seven.

This will be the third time that the Winter Olympics will be held in Asia. The previous two occasions were in Japan (Sapporo ’72 and Nagano ’98).

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak was in Durban to see IOC President Jacques Rogge announce (for the last time) the winning city.
President Lee said that it was: “his duty and mission to deliver the Games to Asia. I will make a good Olympics.

President Lee Myung-Bak (second from left) celebrates the long waited victory with the bidding team.

The Pyeongchang bid chief, Cho Yang-ho, added that: “This is one of the happiest days of our country, our people and millions of youth dreaming of winter sport.

Back in late 2009, The Chosun Ilbo (Korean Daily News) published a survey that said 91.4% of South Koreans and 93% of Gangwon residents (Pyeongchang’s region) backed the bid.

I am personally delighted for Pyeongchang. They were narrowly beaten twice and could have given up, but they showed true Olympic spirit to learn from their mistakes to come back even stronger than ever this time around.

President Rogge said: “The best one [bid] has won convincingly. I think that there is a lesson in the achievement of Pyeongchang. Patience and perseverance has prevailed.

My sympathies to the Munich and Annecy bid teams. If Munich had won, it would have been the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games, whereas an Annecy games go back to Chamonix – the site of the first ever Winter Olympics back in 1924.

The date of the vote (6 July) is turning out to be unlucky for the French Olympic Committee. It was on 6 July 2005 that Paris lost in the final
round of voting (54:50) to London in the 2012 Summer Games vote.

Attention will now turn to the 2020 Summer Olympic bids. 1960 hosts Rome have made an official bid, as have 2012 and 2016 candidate city
Madrid (Spain) and 2016 candidate city Tokyo (Japan). Tokyo should save their time and money in my opinion, because there will not (surly) be back-to-back Far East Olympics.

We will find out which city will host the 2020 Games on 7 September 2013.

THE 2011 Canadian Grand Prix around the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit will go down in history for producing perhaps the most dramatic last few laps Formula 1 has seen since Brazil 2008.

It started raining in Montreal just before the race was due to get underway. There was a possibility that the race would start under the normal procedure, but race control decided to start the race behind the Safety Car. This first SC period lasted for the first four laps of the Grand Prix. I think that if the race starts under the SC it should just be for the first lap of the race, but then again the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit has very little run-off areas and this was probably the best call.

One of the few occasions Vettel has had a car in front of him this year.

Anyway, the SC came in at the end of lap four and the: reigning world champion, current championship leader, pole sitter and newest inductee into the Wall of Champions wall of shame, Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) came under immediate pressure from the second placed Ferrari of double world champion Fernando Alonso at Turn 1but held him off. Further back, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) challenged the other Red Bull of Mark Webber at the same corner for fourth place. Unfortunately the pair touched and Webber was sent into a spin. Hamilton lost ground to the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher as well as his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, whereas Webber found himself much further down the order when he got himself going again.

Button (#4) cashes in on Webber (pointing the wrong way) and Hamilton (behind Webber) nudging each other.

On the next lap Button ran wide at Turn 6and allowed Schumacher to pass him. He now had his team-mate Hamilton to deal with.

Hamilton quickly dispatched his team-mate and began trying to pass Schumacher. On the run down to Turn 10 (L’Epingle ) the seven-times world champion pushed the 2008 world champion wide and onto the run-off area, thus allowing Button to get back ahead of Hamilton.

By this time Hamilton was getting angry inside his helmet. His aggressive driving style (of which I am a great fan) had gotten him into trouble at the previous round in Monaco and was about to go too far once again. Only this time it was with the worst possible person on the track.

At the end of the seventh lap of the Grand Prix race control announced that the Hamilton-Webber incident was under investigation. At the exact same time both McLarens were exiting the Last Chicane and Hamilton had a much higher exit speed than his team-mate in front of him. He pulled out to Button’s left and tried to overtake him around the outside on the start-finish straight. But Button couldn’t see his team-mate due to the amount of spray in his mirrors and stuck to the racing line which was near the pit-wall…this is exactly where Hamilton had placed his car. Two into one didn’t go and the silver machines hit each other sending Hamilton into the pit-wall, puncturing his left-rear tyre and breaking his rear-suspension.

NOOOO!!! 😦

Button’s car was largely undamaged and he carried on at full racing speed though he was clearly unimpressed with his team-mates actions, asking the team over the radio: “What is he doing?!

Hamilton tried to get his car back to the pits as the SC came out so the marshals could pick up the debris on the start-finish straight. But the McLaren team told Hamilton to park the car as the damage was too great, and the Englishman’s race came to an end at Turn 5, the sight of Olivier Panis’s leg-breaking accident in 1997 when he was driving for Prost.

The pair almost come together again.

Rule #1 of Formula 1 – Don’t hit your team-mate.

Meanwhile Button pitted for intermediate tyres under the SC and also found out that hewas now under investigation.

The SC came in at the end of lap 12 with Vettel leading and the Ferraris of Alonso and Felipe Massa second and third respectively. Rosberg held off Schumacher’s attack on his fourth place at the Last Chicane, a move which Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) had a great view of in sixth place ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov (both Renault) who were in seventh and eighth. Webber had worked his way up to ninth ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta. Button at this point was 12th.

By the end of the first racing lap Button was ninth but had been given a Drive-Through Penalty for being too fast behind the SC. Each drive must stick to a certain lap time under SC conditions, and Button had exceeded that time. He decided to take this penalty immediately (the track has a relatively short pit-lane) but still dropped well down the order to 18th place.

But by lap 19 Button had worked his way back up into eighth place and was challenging the two Renaults. He passed Petrov at Turn 7 but the rain suddenly became torrential, and Button was on the wrong tyres for that amount of rainfall. Unsurprisingly the McLaren ran wide at Turn 10 and the Russian (who used to race on ice) duly took seventh place back. Elsewhere on track Massa radioed his concerns about the rain.

Sure enough a lap later the SC was deployed again, but this time it was in order to prevent an accident. This is something that the drivers had been asking for and it’s nice to see that on this occasion they have been listened to.

The rain got worse and worse and on lap 23 Vettel (still in the lead behind the SC) radio: “[There is] So much water. [We] Cannot restart the race like this. People behind me won’t see in spray and crash.

The field continued behind the SC until the end of lap 25 when the Red Flag was thrown because of the constant downpour. The cars – as in South Korea last year – lined up on the grid in race order and waited for the rain to ease up.

There then followed a TWO HOUR period in which nothing happened on track. BBC commentators Martin Brundle and David Coulthard kept their worldwide audience entertained by discussing a vast range of important subjects which included: Do Birds have Shoulders? Why there aren’t seats in their com-box, pop-star Rihanna being shown around the McLaren garage by a now smiling Lewis Hamilton, a photographer falling over and getting a cheeky up-skirt shot of said pop-star 😀 (who had somebody else holding her Umbrella), how cool Mercedes’ rain tents looked, racing in Australia in the rain in ’89 and ’91, when Kobayashi will get out of his car and go for a comfort break and the boat race the teams used to have across the St. Laurence Seaway. BBC anchormen Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan interviewed Star Wars and Indiana Jones director George Lucas and proposed the idea of an F1 film. I on the other hand had to make do with eating cheese and worrying about my A-Level Philosophy & Ethics exam which was the next morning.

Vettel’s thoughts: “Can we just finish this race on the PS3?”

Then, mercifully the rain eased and the race restarted under the SC. The order was: Vettel, Kobayashi, Massa, Heidfeld, Petrov, di Resta, Webber, Alonso, Button and Sauber’s stand-in driver Pedro de la Rosa, whose participation meant that for the first time in 40 years there were two drivers in the race who were over 40 years old (himself and Schumacher, 42).

It wasn’t until the end of lap 34 that the SC returned to the pits because Heikki Kovalainen was limping into retirement with a driveshaft failure on his Lotus. Vettel bolted early so as he wouldn’t have to deal with the often Kamikaze Kobayashi, who actually had his mirrors full of Massa at Turn 1.

Several drivers (Button, Heidfeld, di Resta, Toro Rosso’s Jamie Alguersuari and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado to name a few) all came into the pits for inters at the end of the first racing lap. Button rejoined the race in 15th place.

The 2009 world champion was involved in his second crash of the race on lap 37 when he attempted to pass Alonso’s Ferrari up the inside at Turn 3 and (to me) had won the apex of the corner. But Alonso turned in on him and the pair touched. Alonso was sent spinning and beached his car on the curb as well as damaging the back of his Ferrari, forcing his retirement. Button’s McLaren suffered a front-left puncture and limped back to the pits. The SC came out yet again and the seemingly unstoppable Vettel pitted for new tyres.

Racing was underway again at the end of lap 40 with Vettel still leading from Kobayashi and Massa. Button was now dead last, but was about to revive a McLaren tradition that began with John Watson almost 30 years ago. Attack from the Back.

But before McLaren fans could feel nostalgic again, millions of fans were treated to another blast from the past.

Michael Schumacher took sixth place away from Mark Webber at Turn 10 on lap 42 and was soon promoted to fourth after Paul di Resta broke his front wing on the back of Heidfeld’s Renault, causing them both to pit. By lap 51 Schumacher had caught the Kobayashi-Massa fight for second place. The pair of them got into trouble on the exit of Turn 8 and Schumacher drove straight past the two of them. Michael Schumacher was now second! Massa did pass Kobayashi at Turn 10 but was still third.

He wasn’t third for long however as he aquaplaned into a wall whilst trying to lap Narain Karthikeyan (HRT) just two laps later and the Brazilian damaged the nose of his Ferrari. Further up the track Vettel was pitting for super-soft tyres and his Red Bull team-mate Webber was on a charge.

There was yet more on-track drama on lap 56 when Nick Heidfeld broke his Renault’s front wing on the back of Kobayashi’s Sauber at Turn 2 (Virage Senna). The German carried on at full speed until he ran over his own front wing which sent him slightly airborne. He slid down the escape road at Turn 3 out the way, but the debris on the track was on the racing line and the SC was needed for a record shattering sixth time in the race (I believe Canada ’07 or ‘08 did hold the record with four).

One marshal had a moment to forget when he fell over like Bambi on ice more than once in front of oncoming cars. I reckon he did something then that he hasn’t done since he was a small boy.

But in all seriousness, we were now set for the grandstand finish we were robbed of in Monaco. Vettel had: Schumacher, Webber and Button (who had raced up through the field yet again) right behind him with just 10 laps to go.

When the SC came in Vettel gunned it in a desperate bid to get away from the chasing trio. Webber couldn’t pass Schumacher until the DRS was made available at the end of lap 63. He got ahead of the oldest driver in the race at the Last Chicane but missed the corner itself and went across the run-off area. He had to give Schumacher the place back but also needed to prevent Button from cashing in on him slowing up. Webber judged his move perfectly at Turn 2 and we were back to how we were.

On the end of the 64th lap Webber again cut the Last Chicane trying to DRS his way past Schumacher. Webber almost took out Button as he came back onto the track but couldn’t stop the McLaren moving up to third place.

Button DRSed his way past Schumacher before they got to the Last Chicane one lap later, and could clearly see Vettel ahead of him. Button was driving like a man possessed, but there was still a very real possibility that Vettel would win his sixth race out of seven this season.

With just three laps to go Button was 1.3-seconds behind Vettel and gaining on him, but at the moment wasn’t close enough to get his DRS to work. Webber was close enough to Schumacher however to get his to work and finally passed the Mercedes the Last Chicane.

Button set the fastest lap of the race on lap 69 (the last lap but one) with a 1:16.956 (126.774-mph) lap, but he still couldn’t get past Vettel, who just needed to hang on for another 2.71-miles (4.361-Km).

Then came the moment that has hopefully saved the 2011 season. Vettel ran wide at Turn 6 and slid on the damp surface allowing Button to take the lead with only seven corners to go! Remember what Red Bull said in Malaysia? “We pushed them and they cracked.” How ironic that seems now! 😀

My Dad and I cheered like crazy (perhaps louder than when Liverpool score an injury-time winner) as Button somehow won the 10th and unquestionably the greatest Grand Prix of his career having: started from 7th, had a crash with his team-mate and Alonso, been 21st and last, been in the pits six times and had a D-T Penalty!

Could this be one of the greatest wins F1 has ever seen?

This race was the longest in Formula 1 history at 4h:04m:39.537, breaking the record which had stood since the 1954 German Grand Prix which was won by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio (then Mercedes), who would have turned 100-years-old yesterday (24 June). Button’s average speed over the course of the whole Grand Prix was only 46.522-mph, making this by far the slowest Grand Prix ever as well.

The race stared at 18:00 my time and did not end until just gone 22:00!

I have never seen Jenson Button drive like he did in Canada before and can’t wait to see if he can carry on this form into the next few races. It has also been proven that Vettel can crack under pressure.

2011 Canadian Grand Prix Top 10.

  1. Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) 70 laps in 4h:04:39.537 – 25 points
  2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) + 2.709-seconds – 18 points
  3. Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) +13.828-seconds – 15 points
  4. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) + 14.219-seconds – 12 points
  5. Vitaly Petrov (Renault) +20.395-seconds – 10 points
  6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) +33.225-seconds – 8 points, who passed…
  7. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) +33.270-seconds – 6 points, on the line!
  8. Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) +35.964-seconds – 4 points, his best F1 finish (also started from the pit-lane).
  9. Rubens Barrichello (Williams-Cosworth) +45.117-seconds – 2 points
  10. Sébastien Buemi (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) +47.056-seconds – 1 point.

Rosberg came 11th, de la Rosa showed that he still has it by finishing 12th and Vitantonio Liuzzi came home in 13th, HRT’s best ever finish.

I have been watching F1 religiously since 1996, and I can confidently say that this was one of the very best races I’ve ever seen.

PS: The moral of the story is, all you need to do is lead the last lap.






Gap From 1st


Sebastian VETTEL (GER)

Red Bull









Red Bull









Fernando ALONSO (ESP)





Felipe MASSA (BRA)






























Adrian SUTIL (GER)

Force India




Sébastien BUEMI (SWI)

Toro Rosso





Toro Rosso









Sergio PÉREZ (MEX)






Force India








Gap From 1st













































THIS very day 50 years ago (12 April 1961), humanity witnessed what at the time was its greatest achievement. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin had just become the first human to travel into space and orbit the Earth in his rocket, Vostok 1.

Yuri Gagarin

Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino near Gzhatsk, Soviet Union (what is now Smolensk Oblast, Russia) to collective farm workers Alexey and Anna Gagarin on 9 March 1934. During the Nazi occupation of the U.S.S.R. the Gagarin house was taken over by a German officer and the family had to live in a small mud hut for 21 months. While his parents worked, young Yuri was raised by his elder sister. His two other siblings were forced into Nazi slave labour in 1943 but survived and returned home after the war.

Gagarin soon became interested in space and the planets, and often dreamt about spaceflight. He joined the Soviet air force and was soon qualified to fly light aircraft. He met his wife, Valentina Goryacheva, while he was earning his pilot’s wings which he got in a MiG-15. He became a Lieutenant just over a month after Sputnik 1 (Soviet) became the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth and only two days after Laika (again Soviet) became the first animal in space. By 1959 he had risen to the rank of Senior Lieutenant.

One year later Gagarin was chosen along with 19 other pilots to be in the Soviet Space Programme. Spaceflight became one step closer when he was selected to be a member of the Sochi Six, from which the first cosmonauts for the Vostok programme would be chosen. Gagarin made the final two along with Gherman Titov*.

The Soviet Union’s Buzz Aldrin, Gherman Titov.

The pair had both performed well in training and their height (or rather lack of, Gagarin was only 5ft 2in or 157cm tall) meant that they could easily fit into the cramped Vostok capsule. But Gagarin also had the support of his peers. When asked to vote in secret for who they thought should pilot Vostok 1, all but three of the 20 trainee cosmonauts chose Gagarin.

Finally, he was chosen to become the first ever cosmonaut. For his name, immortality beckoned.

On the morning of 12 April 1961, Gagarin and Titov (his backup) were woken at around 5:30am and had breakfast as per normal. The night before after the final pre-flight checks the two of them relaxed like any other men. They listened to music, played pool and talked about their childhoods. They were then transported to the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (now known as Gagarin’s Start in modern day Kazakhstan). Gagarin himself was extremely calm before take-off while others around him fretted like it was going out of fashion. Just 30 minutes before launch his heart rate was just 64 beats per minute.

Gagarin in Vostok 1.

Vostok 1 launched at 06:07 UTC. “Poyekhali!” or “Off we go!” shouted Gagarin as he headed into the annals of history.

Enjoying the ride?

The single orbit itself lasted 108 minutes with a top speed of 17,400-mph at an altitude of 187.7 miles. During his flight he was promoted to major in the air force. In his post-flight report Gagarin wrote: “The feeling of weightlessness was somewhat unfamiliar compared with Earth conditions. Here, you feel as if you were hanging in a horizontal position in straps. You feel as if you are suspended.” Shortly before re-entry Gagarin calmed the fears of those on the ground by telling Moscow: “I read you well.” But the re-entry was the most dangerous part of the flight. He wasn’t out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.

The Flight plan. Sorry it’s in Russian.

After a slight hic-cup over North Africa (the spacecraft hadn’t separated properly – wires were holding it in one piece) Vostok 1 split in two and Gagarin was left in the capsule experiencing around 8-10g – more than twice what a Formula 1 driver experiences.

At 07:55 UTC and 7km above ground, Gagarin ejected and free-fell until he was 2.5km from the surface when the he opened his parachute. Two schoolgirls described the capsule landing scene: “It was a huge ball, about two or three meters high. It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit the first time.

The capsule after it’s landing.

The capsule is now in the RKK Energiya museum near Moscow.

When Gagarin eventually landed south west of Engels in Saratov, the first people who came across him were a farmer and her daughter. According to Gagarin himself: “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!

After the flight Gagarin became an international celebrity. He was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union (the U.S.S.R.’s highest honour) along with numerous other international awards. He went to many countries around the world to promote the Soviet Union which included: Italy, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Finland and Great Britain. It is said he fondly remembered his trip to Manchester in particular.

Tragically on 27 March 1968, Gagarin was killed along with his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin when their MiG-15UTI crashed near the town of Kirzhach. Their ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin in Red Square. Very recent declassified documents state that the cause of the crash was the plane being manoeuvred sharply by either Gagarin or Seryogin in order to avoid a weather balloon or entry into cloud cover.

Gagarin is still widely celebrated in Russia to this day. 12 April is both Cosmonautics Day in Russia and Yuri’s Night around the world. Today, the golden anniversary of his flight, events are taking place all over the world, with a 50-gun salute in Moscow. This is just my small tribute to him.

Since his pioneering flight, over 500 men and women from 38 different countries have gone into space. Hopefully one day I’ll join the club (if I can afford it) and if I do I’ll be thinking of Gagarin, and what it must have felt like to be the first man ever to leave our safe little blue world.

*Titov became the second man in space in August 1961 aboard Vostok 2. He was the first person to spend a day in space, sleep in space and suffer from space sickness (motion sickness in space).

Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” – Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Father of rocketry.

AT 00:45 GMT on 18 March 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft became the first probe to enter into the planet Mercury’s orbit.

An artist’s impression of MESSENGER in Mercury’s orbit.

MESSENGER was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, back on 3 August 2004. To finally get into a position to be captured by the smallest planet’s gravity, MESSENGER had to complete no less than six planetary flybys: one of Earth, two of Venus and three of Mercury itself.

During its mission from here on in, MESSENGER will orbit Mercury approx. 730 times, and will capture some spectacular pictures of the planet with orbits on average just 36 million miles (58 million Km) from the Sun.

Because of its close proximity to the Sun, Mercury’s surface temperature can reach over 427˚C, which is hot enough to melt lead. So to cope with these extreme mercury levels (couldn’t resist) MESSENGER has had special heat deflecting shields attached to it. But that’s just when it is facing the Sun. The night side of Mercury has to suffer temperatures of a chilling -183˚C.

MESSENGER is only the second spacecraft to visit the innermost planet. Back in 1974/5, Mariner 10 mapped around 45% of Mercury’s surface. It is now MESSENGER’s job to map the rest. Hopefully we’ll be getting some more great images of Mercury like the one below, which MESSENGER took on a previous flyby.

Meanwhile, deep in the Solar System another NASA probe reached an important milestone. The New Horizons spacecraft crossed the orbit of the planet Uranus on the very same day MESSENGER entered Mercury’s orbit at 22:00 GMT. But unfortunately no pictures could be taken because Uranus was nearly 3.9 billion Km away at the time.

New Horizons is just over five years and two months into its mission to the dwarf planet Pluto, and will be the first probe to reach the ex-planet. On its long voyage across the Solar System, New Horizons crossed Mars’s orbit on 7 April 2006, got a gravitational assist from Jupiter on 28 February 2007 (and took some awesome pictures of the gas-giant and its moons to boot), passed Saturn’s orbit on 8 June 2008, and reached half-distance on 29 December 2009. New Horizons will cross Neptune’s orbit on 24 August 2014.

Pluto will finally be visited on 14 July 2015 at 11:47 UTC at a distance of 13,695 Km. 14 minutes later, New Horizons will flyby Pluto’s three moons: Charon, Hydra and Nix. The probe will then do as Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 did and leave the Solar System. This is expected to happen in 2029, 99 years after Pluto was discovered.

An artist’s impression of New Horizons’ Pluto flyby.

A day later (19 March) it was the Moon that made the headlines as it made its closest approach to Earth in almost 20 years. The Supermoon appeared about 14% bigger and up to 30% brighter than a normal full moon in the cleat Saturday night sky.

I for one wasn’t going to miss it, and went up into my garden with my plucky digital camera. I go a few pictures, but they are far off being world class. The one below is the one I am most proud of.  I think I set it to black and white, and was quite stunned to find that I had captured some of the detail on the lunar surface.

Eat your heart out Hubble.

And finally, today (23 March 2011) is the tenth anniversary of the deorbit of the Russian space station Mir.

Mir in it’s prime.

After years of service, it became unfeasible for the Russians to fund both it and the International Space Station (ISS). So Mir was brought back down to Earth over Fiji in a fire ball, which as an eight year-old boy I found rather exciting.

One ex-space station.

ENGLAND won this year’s Six Nations championship after having gone without the title since 2003’s Grand Slam triumph.

The 2003 world champions finished with eight points and 13 tries to their name. France, last year’s Grand Slam champions, finished second on six points, with Ireland third, also on six points but with a lower points difference (+12 instead of France’s +26). Wales came fourth, also finishing on six points but with a points difference of just +6. Scotland finished fifth with two points and Italy once again picked up the wooden spoon (for the ninth time since 2000) with two points, but with a points difference of -68, whereas Scotland’s was -27.

The 119th championship kicked-off on Friday 4 February with Wales taking on England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. England made their title intensions clear with a 26-19 win, which extended Wales’ long run without a Test match victory. The next day Ireland were lucky to beat Italy in Rome’s Stadio Flaminio. A drop goal from Ronan O’Gara two minutes from time saw the Irish scrape a 13-11 victory. Later that day in the Stade de France, Paris, reigning champions France beat Scotland 34-21.

The second round of matches was held the next weekend, 12-13 February. Chris Ashton ran in four tries as England thumped Italy at London’s Twickenham Stadium 59-13. Ashton became the first player to score four tries in a match since the championship became the Six Nations back in 2000, and also became the first English man to score four tries in a Six, Five or Home Nations match since Ronald Poulton did so against France in 1914. These tries, plus the two he scored against Wales, put him on six in total and level with Will Greenwood (England) and Shane Williams (Wales) for the most tries scored in a Six Nations campaign. Meanwhile, Scotland’s bad start continued as they lost 6-24 to Wales at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. France kept their Grand Slam dreams alive by ending Ireland’s hopes with a 25-22 at the new Aviva Stadium (the old Lansdowne Road) in Dublin.

After a short gap the championship resumed over the weekend of 26-27 February. Wales won in Italy 24-16, before England ended any ideas France had about back-to-back Grand Slams with a 17-9 win at home. In the 52nd minute of the match, the legendary Jonny Wilkinson kicked a penalty that made him the all-time leading point scorer in Rugby Union history, overtaking All Black Dan Carter. Scotland lost their third match in three (and second at home) to Ireland 18-21.

After three of the five weekends of the championship, only England were able to complete the Grand Slam.

The fourth weekend (12-13 March) began with the upset of the championship. Italy beat France for the first time in 31 matches, and for the first time ever in the Six Nations. The Azzurri were 6-18 down with 20 minute to play, but roared on by the partisan home crowd ended up winning the match 22-21. 🙂 After the match, French coach Marc Lièvremont said that his players had let him and the French nation down, that they were cowards and that some of them had worn the French jersey for the last time. I don’t think he was too pleased to do? Later on that day, Wales won the most controversial match of this years’ championship at home to Ireland. The final score was 19-13 to Wales, but that included a converted try that should never have been given. In the 50th minute, Mike Phillips ran in a try, having received the ball from Welsh team-mate Matthew Rees who had taken a quick line-out after Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton had kicked the ball into touch. But the ball-boy handed Rees a different ball, which is against the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) rules. Nobody picked up on the error until it was too late, and when it was discovered Ireland felt understandably hard done by. Without those seven points for Wales, they would have won 13-12.

I personally blame the ball-boy above everybody else for this incident. He should know the rules just like everybody else who has a direct effect on the match. But the touch judge has to get some of the blame as well. He should have been looking to see if the ball was the correct one or not too.

Ireland did have something to smile about though. With the conversion of their captain, Brian O’Driscoll’s record equaling 24th championship try, Ronan O’Gara became only the fifth Rugby Union player to score 1,000 Test match points.

England kept on course for the Grand Slam with a 22-16 home win over Scotland, although England didn’t look like the side from the previous weekends. During the match, French referee Romain Poite tore a hamstring muscle and had to be replaced.

The fifth and final round of matches all took place on Saturday 19 March. Scotland won their only match of the championship 21-8 at home to Italy, thus avoiding the wooden spoon. England’s Grand Slam dreams were shattered by Ireland who won 24-8 in Dublin. England played like a bunch of schoolboys in comparison to how they played against Wales and in particular Italy earlier in the championship. This loss for England meant that if Wales beat France by 27 points or more in Paris, then they would be champions instead of England. But fortunately England, France won the last match of the championship 28-9.

England’s Chris Ashton finished as top try scorer with a grand total of six. His ‘Swallow Dive’ celebrations are my moments of the tournament. His England team-mate, Toby Flood, scored the most points in the championship with 47 points to his name. But the major achievement of the championship came from Ireland’s captain, Brian O’Driscoll. His try against England on the last weekend was his 25th in the championship, which is a new all-time record. Well done sir.

Chris Ashton’s ‘Swallow Dive’.

Brian O’Driscoll’s record breaking try.

As we now all know, England won the championship but not the Grand Slam and thanks to their loss to Ireland, failed to win the Triple Crown as well. Ireland also retained the Millennium Trophy as a result of this win. Ireland also got their hands back on the Centenary Quaich after their win over Scotland. Italy won the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy for the first time ever after their famous win over France, and England retained the Calcutta Cup with their win over Scotland. 🙂

All in all, I’m very happy that England won this years’ Six Nations. It has been too long since out last triumph – 2003 – and if you are looking for good omens, this was also the year we won the World Cup. But without the Grand Slam, coupled together with how it was denied, it seems a slightly hollow victory.

England…CHAMPIONS! 😀














































































THIS year’s Formula 1 curtain raiser, the Bahrain Grand Prix, has been cancelled. This is because of the bloody and ongoing civil unrest that has swept Bahrain and the rest of the Arab world.

So far (according to Wikipedia) seven people have been killed during the anti-government protests in Bahrain’s capital Manama. The protesters said that they would target the race in order to gain global publicity for their cause.

This sparked the cancellation of the GP2 Asian Series test session and races, and calls for the F1 test session at the Sakhir circuit and the race on 13 March to be called off as well.

The F1 test session and race were both rightly cancelled on Monday 21 February. This means that there will be only 19 races this season and not the record 20 that Bernie Ecclestone wanted. The 2011 F1 season will now start on 27 March in Australia, which is where I think the season should start every year.

To me, the cancellation of any Grand Prix is sad, but in the face of anti-government protests all across the Arab world, rolling in with all the fanfare of the opening race of the F1 season would just seem wrong.

But at least it’s only the Bahrain Grand Prix that has been called off. Let’s face facts; it isn’t the best race on the calendar (in fact if you ask me it is one of the worst). I won’t miss it; I’ll quite happily wait the extra two weeks for Australia.

I think the awfulness of the Sakhir track is reason enough to call the race off anyway.

AN Australian solider has been awarded his country’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross for Australia, for his actions in battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan in June 2010.

Cpl Benjamin Roberts-Smith, 32, was leading a mission in the volatile Kandahar province on 11 June 2010 when his men came under heavy enemy machine-gun fire.

Realising his men were unable to move under the onslaught of bullets, Cpl Roberts-Smith deliberately gave away his position and opened fire, killing one Taliban fighter and overpowering another two.

At the award ceremony, Australia’s PM Julia Gillard told Cpl Roberts-Smith: “You went to Afghanistan a soldier, you came back a hero.

But Cpl Roberts-Smith (who also has Australia’s third highest military honour, the Medal for Gallantry) was much coyer about his actions saying: “The real heroes are those who died for their country.

There are still 1,550 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Cpl Roberts-Smith becomes the second person to have received the Victoria Cross for Australia after SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson was awarded his VC just over two years ago for rescuing an interpreter under heavy fire in Oruzgan province, Afghanistan. In total, 98 Australians have now been awarded the VC – the highest military honour in the Commonwealth.

Cpl Benjamin “Ben” Roberts-Smith VC, MG with his five-month old twin daughters, Eve and Elizabeth.

THE nephew of former Indian opening batsman Wasim Jaffer, Armaan Jaffer, 13, has broken the record for the highest individual Cricket score made in India.

Whilst playing for Rizvi Springfield School against IES Raja Shivaji Vidyalaya in an under-14 Giles Shield match in Mumbai, Jaffer smashed a behemothic 498 runs of just 490 balls in an innings which lasted two days. He hit 77 fours and played in a free-flowing manner. After his innings was over he said: “I had decided not to play any aerial shots. I knew as long as I occupy the crease, the runs will keep flowing.

Jaffer added: “It would have been better if I had got 500, but there is no grudge.

A very pleased Jaffer next to his score.

The previous record was 461 and was held by Ali Zorain Khan of Nagpur.

Now if I’m not mistaken young Jaffer’s 498 is the eighth highest individual score that I have ever come across. The only other scores higher than this that I can find are these listed below.

  • 499 – Hanif Mohammad for Karachi against Bahawalpur in 1958/59.
  • 501* – Brian Lara for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994.
  • 502* – Malhotra Chamanlal for Mehandra Coll, Patiala against Government Coll, Rupar in 1956/57.
  • 506* – JC Sharp for Melbourne Grammar School against Geelong Collage in 1914/15.
  • 515 – Dadabhoy Havewala for B.B & C.I Railways against St Xavier’s in 1933/34.
  • 566 – CJ Eady for Break-o’-Day against Wellington in 1901/02.

And finally the highest score ever recorded in the history of Cricket:

  • 628* – AEJ Collins for Clark’s House against North Town in 1899.

Remarkably, both Collins and Jaffer have made their possibly career defining totals at the age of just 13. Coincidently I also made my highest ever score when I was around Collins and Jaffer’s age, but 120 fades away into nothingness when you start talking about scores like the above.

I was in a real purple patch in the spring/summer of 2007 wasn’t I?