Enter the maze

Computer science in space

the reflective helmet of a space suit

Mad for Mars? Obsessed with the Oort cloud? Really quite crazy about quasars? No one could blame you.

The lure of unexplored territory is amazingly powerful. People have gone to enormous trouble to launch themselves into the unknown throughout human history. Sure, in the last century we’ve invented incredible technology dedicated to chucking ourselves out of the Earth’s atmosphere, but we’ve always been dreaming up gadgets to get us to new places. The wheel was only a start. When Charles Babbage invented one of the world’s first calculating machines almost 200 years ago, the use he had in mind for it was to make navigation easier for ships. So even the rise of computers came stuck in a motherboard of mad exploration.

Computers have stayed attached to that exploration, and now we couldn’t get our glimpses into space without them. Both astronomy and computing are about more than just their cool gadgets, though. The renowned computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra knew it when he said "computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes". That’s why in this issue you’ll read about both the fantastic tech and the deep thinking that’s up there in space. Enjoy.

Space is all around you

Just as humans extend our reach into the stars with telescopes, probes and shuttles, space is coming down to meet us on Earth. Our mobiles, televisions and satnavs all rely on satellites to make them work. In this issue you’ll read about more than just the far-flung points of the galaxy – there’s plenty of spacey stuff around you every day. It’s only 50 years after we first began to feel our way around the heavens, and now the heavens have a firm grip on our lives.