If you were to ask someone watching the live transmission of the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago what space exploration look like in 2019, the answer would most likely have been overoptimistic. After that maiden flight, five additional moon landings took place until 1972. We haven’t returned to the moon since then. Nonetheless, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the next half-century. New technologies and falling costs, driven in part by a new breed of space entrepreneurs, are pushing the frontiers of space exploration. Putting aside unmanned exploration missions, new plans to once again reach the moon and beyond are slowly but steadily taking shape.
The incentives that existed in the 1960s are slowly kicking back in. As many commentators have put it, back then space missions were for the most part intended to signal capabilities rather than goals in themselves, hence the lack of incentives to recreate moon landings in the following decades. But with China, Russia and India announcing manned missions for the 2030s, America has once again a strategic incentive to develop new plans and support the booming private space sector alike. In a speech on Saturday commemorating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, Mike Pence brought the date of a new moon landing forward to 2024 and stressed the importance of accomplishing this goal “by any means necessary”.
This time, however, the plans go beyond the moon. During an interview with CBS on Sunday, CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk talked about the possibility of sending humans to Mars within just four years; although SpaceX’s official targets are to send cargo in 2022 and a crew in 2024. In any case, the coming years are set to overshadow on all frontiers of space the decades that followed the end of the Apollo programme.
A British tanker was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Corps in Strait of Hormuz, amid growing tensions between Iran and the west. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, is expected to brief MPs on the matter this afternoon, as well as announce a set of diplomatic and economic measures in response. The government was criticised for the way in which it handled what was an expected event following several Iranian threats after Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar earlier this month.
Protests in Hong Kong intensified over the weekend, with China’s government offices being attacked for the first time since the movement began in April. The protests have increased in the last week, even though the extradition bill that started it all has already been suspended. The protesters’ main demands now focus on an independent investigation into the tactics used by the police to suppress the movement, as well as the resignation of the territory’s chief executive and new elections.
Wildfires spread throughout central Portugal during the weekend, and it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that authorities managed to get them under control. The incident brought fears of something similar happening to what occurred in 2017 when wildfires spread widely and killed dozens of people. Portugal often grapples with wildfires given its dense forests, high summer temperatures and the strong winds coming from the Atlantic.
Business & Economy
China launched a new tech stock market this morning, the Science and Technology Innovation Board of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and it is said to be China’s response to Nasdaq. The market, which intends to boost domestic investment in the sector, initially listed 25 Chinese tech companies, but 140 more are waiting to be included.
Neil Woodford invested a further £10m in Atom, a struggling private bank, together with other investors, despite increasing demands from investors of Woodford’s flagship fund to withdraw their money. The £50m total investment will serve to fund Atom’s operations and growth.
Metro Bank is in talks about an agreement to sell the £500m of its mortgage portfolio to Cerberus Capital Management. If completed, the deal will provide a boost to Metro Bank's capital position. The bank acquired a £520m buy-to-let portfolio from Cerberus in February 2018 as a way of bolstering its loan-book.
The Week Ahead
Deutsche Bank Q2 results are set to be published on Wednesday. The bank recently announced a massive restructuring that cut 18,000 jobs and got rid of most of its trading business. Meanwhile, Alphabet and Amazon, will report Q2 earnings on Thursday. Many more US companies will publish their results throughout the week.
The European Central Bank is due to discuss monetary policy and interest rates on Thursday. According to board members, the bank is ready to act, if necessary, to help inflation move towards its aim of close to but below two per cent in the eurozone.
The results of the Conservative party race will be announced on Tuesday. The new Prime Minister will have a busy week, as he will have to appoint a foreign secretary, chancellor and home secretary along with every other government post, as well as deal with a crisis in the Gulf that could spiral into military conflict with Iran. But the frontrunner, Boris Johnson, has an extra challenge: maintaining a majority in parliament. Up to six Conservative MPs could even join the Lib Dems in the case of a Johnson premiership. If only two were to switch, it would deny Johnson a majority.
What's happening today?
Columns of Note
In the Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau argues that the IMF needs a strong replacement for Lagarde, and that the Fund must not be used “as a dumping ground for washed-up officials”. Many of the top EU policymakers who could fill the position, he laments, are “economically illiterate” and will be unlikely to deal successfully with trade and currency wars, blurred boundaries between fiscal and monetary policies, new types of financial crises, and digital currencies. Instead, the world will need to look beyond Europe and the traditional ideological lines to draw the right candidate for the job.
Also writing for the FT, Jonathan Ford questions the effectiveness of the FCA’s regulatory framework, in particular, its complexity and the way in which it handles complaints. He suggests that the answer is not more rules, but instead a greater focus on principles and more vigorous use of the checks and balances to avoid situations such as Woodford. Those who try to sell dubious schemes under the new system, he argues, should face more stringent sanctions following findings of malpractice, as should the auditors who sign off their accounts. Finally, complaints should be handled far more quickly, whether in investigating regulated firms and people, or responding to customer complaints.
Did you know?
If the sun suddenly disappeared, we would still gravitate around it and get its light for 8 minutes.
House of Commons
Housing, Communities and Local Government (including Topical Questions)
Tributes to the Serjeant at Arms - Mel Stride
Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill: remaining stages
Degraded chalk stream environments - Mr Charles Walker
House of Lords
Impact of weight- and shape-related bullying, criticism and teasing on long-term mental health - Baroness Bull
Mandating M4(2) of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations 2010 to ensure that future houses are accessible and adaptable - Baroness Campbell of Surbiton
Strengthening the public authorities’ biodiversity duty - Baroness Parminter
Improving the environmental sustainability of the textiles and clothing sectors - Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Bill - Consideration of Commons Amendment - Lord Duncan of Springbank
Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee stage - Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
Extending the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to contractors and other organisations exercising public functions - Lord McNally
On recess until Monday 1 September.