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We were asked to write a non-fiction piece – an editorial of no more than 500 words or a letter to the editor. An editorial should not contain any first person sentences, but nevertheless it needs to express an opinion. So here is my editorial (or perhaps you might prefer to call it an opinion piece). There are no first person sentences in it, but I'm sure you will be able to work out where I stand on the subject...

It Really is Rocket Science

On the tip of the Mahia peninsula, right on the very edge of the world, a rocket waits on its launch pad. Wisps of liquid oxygen and kerosene drift from pressure valves in its fuel tanks. Soon the fuel will be pumped into the engines and ignited, and then 36,000 pounds of thrust will send the rocket's 400 pound payload into an orbit 300 miles above the Earth...

Launch Complex Number One on the Mahia Peninsula is owned and operated by Rocket Lab, the brainchild of entrepreneur Peter Beck, a self-confessed space-nut from Invercargill. His family have always been engineers, and for as long as he can remember, Peter has been obsessed with big, powerful engines. He told his careers advisor at school that he wanted to build rockets to go into space. The careers advisor was so worried about Peter's absurdly eccentric ambitions that he actually held a special meeting with Peter's parents in an attempt to put pressure on Peter to aim for something more realistic than the quite ridiculous dream of sending a satellite into orbit. Clearly the man was not a very successful careers advisor – from that day to this, Peter has continued to pursue his obsession with an enviable degree of single-mindedness.

Not only is Peter a rocket scientist par excellence, he is also a persuasive and silver-tongued businessman. He has convinced both Stephen Tindall and Michael Fay to invest heavily in his dream. What can possibly go wrong?

There are very few space launch facilities in the world. Everyone knows about the huge space ports at Cape Canaveral in Florida and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Southern Kazakhstan. The European Space Agency has a launch site at Kourou in French Guiana. The Chinese have a large launch facility at Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert (and several other, smaller launch facilities in other parts of the country). India has a launch site at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. With the commissioning of Launch Complex Number One in Mahia, New Zealand has joined a very small and very exclusive club.

This achievement is even more impressive when you realise that there are only three countries in the whole world who have a space programme that is not funded by their governments. One of these countries is America, where there is a flourishing privately funded space industry that operates quite independently of NASA  (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) which is the governmental arm of America's presence in space. Another is the UK where Richard Branson is attempting to put together a commercial space travel company called Virgin Galactic with, so far, a marked lack of success.

And the third country, of course, is New Zealand – proving yet again that it is more than capable of playing all the games that the big boys play.

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