Woodward’s World: The real question is can we afford not to go to space?

British astronaut Tim Peake is making history - and his stint in space could help us here on Earth. (AP Photo)
British astronaut Tim Peake is making history - and his stint in space could help us here on Earth. (AP Photo)
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YOU wait ages for a decent space launch and then two come along at once.

YOU wait ages for a decent space launch and then two come along at once.

This week we were treated to the sight of a pair of spaceships blasting their way through the solar system.

One contained Harrison Ford and a wookiee, the other Brit astronaut Tim Peake on his way to the International Space Station.

And for all the fuss over the new Star Wars movie, I hope it’s Tim’s adventure that truly catches kids’ imagination.

This was history in the making and it was great that the nation’s youngsters were involved every step of the way – from designing the badge on Peake’s space suit in a Blue Peter competition to watching the launch live in school.

I tuned in as well and it was a magnificent sight – even if my mind instinctively flashed back to that February day in 1986 when the Challenger space shuttle exploded barely a minute after launch.

Thankfully, everything went smoothly and right now Peake is on board the international space station orbiting 250 miles above us.

But his space adventure isn’t coming cheap.

We pour an average of £240m a year into the European Space Agency, while the UK Space Agency gets an annual budget of £322m from the public purse.

In a time of continued cutbacks, can such spending on space exploration be justified?

I reckon so. In fact, it’s probably more worthwhile now than ever before.

You see, where once space exploration was simply sparked by curiosity about our place in the universe, it’s now driven partly by survival.

You only have to look at the dire straits our planet is in right now to realise that it’s a good idea to explore our options.

The environment’s in trouble, while we’re tearing through essentials like food, water and energy at a frankly terrifying rate of knots.

The classic sci-fi plot of going to space to escape a dying planet might be a little far-fetched, but you can’t help wondering what this place is going to look like in a couple of hundred years.

While he’s up there, Tim Peake will be involved in something like 250 experiments.

Many of them are to do with how the body is affected by being in space.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that it’s another step toward putting people on other planets.

The experts reckon the Americans will launch another mission to the Moon in about five years’ time.

And word is they will be looking to start setting up a base there ahead of a potential manned mission to Mars.

But before all that, the experiments on board the International Space Station could bring massive benefits here on Earth.

They’re designed to help us make greater strides in medicine, as well as help agriculture and the environment.

In other words, although we don’t all need to book seats on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic just yet, space offers us opportunities to make the best of this planet’s resources before it’s too late.

Then there’s the fact that events such as putting the first publicly-funded British astronaut into space will inspire the mathematicians and scientists of tomorrow.

Looking at the way things are going, you have to feel that we’re going to need them.

As for The Force Awakens, I was due to see it with a couple of mates this weekend but I’m taking the kids to see Santa instead.

My idea was to nip out one night next week and see it on my own but my wife now wants to come too.

Having never watched a Star Wars film in her life, I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea.

They may be able to put a man on the Moon, but I’m not sure even the sharpest minds at NASA would know where to begin explaining the story so far before the final credits.

Make sure you vote Sir Kev

WOULDN’T it be brilliant if Kevin Sinfield upset the odds and won this weekend’s Sports Personality of the Year award?

Even your typical one-eyed southerner can’t deny that on paper he deserves it. This is a bloke who’s been at the top of his sport for years and led Leeds Rhinos to the treble in his final season. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.

Of course, we all know that Sir Kev did well just to make the shortlist given the antipathy shown to rugby league by those down south.

But you’ve got to wonder about the favourite to get the gong – Andy Murray.

Yes, he did a great job in leading Great Britain to its first Davis Cup title since 1936, but I could have done without all the histrionics.

Watching Murray scream at his brother standing on the sidelines was toe curlingly embarrassing.

Then there’s Tyson Fury – the giant gypsy who stunned the boxing world by doing the seemingly impossible and beating Wladimir Klitschko.

There’s no question he deserves his nomination on the back of his performance in the ring, but the “personality” bit of Sports Personality of the Year? Nope, I’m afraid the hate-filled nonsense he spews out in interviews means he’s disqualified on that front.

So, let’s hope Sir Kev pulls off the biggest upset of his career. If not, it’s at least great to see local heroes like him and Lizzie Armitstead on the shortlist.

Did your baubles cost £10,000?

I MADE the mistake this week of watching a Channel 4 documentary called The World’s Most Expensive Christmas.

Blimey. The rampant excess on show had me clawing at the sofa in anger.

A Russian millionairess forked out £10,000 on gold baubles for her Christmas tree.

A Middle Eastern couple spent £250,000 on decking out their London home with decorations – even though they don’t actually celebrate Christmas and weren’t even sure if they were going to be there over the festive season.

Then there was the bloke who tasted a luxury £800 box of chocolates and promptly ordered £60,000 worth.

It was a sad indictment of a society in which the super-rich pay stupid money for ridiculous things while children starve and the elderly go without care.

It also reminded me of two things. It’s not what’s under the tree that matters, but who’s around it.

And that money can’t buy taste.

Tony Yeboah scores in the 1995 Christmas Eve clash between Leeds and Manchester United.

Rob Atkinson: A very Leeds United Christmas Eve