Boris Johnson has said solving the Irish border problem requires Britain to harness the spirit of the moon landing.
The presumptive prime minister used his latest Daily Telegraph column to argue that the UK should see the Apollo 11 mission as proof government can achieve things once thought impossible.
“If they could use hand-knitted computer code to make a frictionless re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 1969, we can solve the problem of frictionless trade at the Northern Irish border,” he wrote.
“There is no task so simple that government cannot overcomplicate if it doesn’t want to do it. And there are few tasks so complex that humanity cannot solve if we have a real sense of mission to pull them off. It is time this country recovered some its can-do spirit.”
But the claim was quickly pounced on by experts. Space engineer Max Fagin wrote on Twitter that Johnson’s ascertion that re-entry to Earth was “frictionless” was in fact not accurate.
“1) The Apollo reentry wasn’t ‘frictionless’,” Fagin wrote. “2) It’s not friction that causes most of the heat on reentry. It’s radiative transfer from the glowing shockwave. 3) I’ll be in the UK for another day. Trade you a seminar on this subject for a tour of parlament?”
Stian Westlake, an adviser to three science ministers and senior fellow at innovation foundation Nesta, also claimed it had been proven in studies that the work behind the moon landing was “significantly easier than solving complex political problems”.
1) The Apollo reentry wasn't 'frictionless".— Max Fagin 🚀🔴☄🌘 (@MaxFagin) July 22, 2019
2) It's not friction that causes most of the heat on reentry. It's radiative transfer from the glowing shockwave.
3) I'll be in the UK for another day. Trade you a seminar on this subject for a tour of Parlament?#Brexit#Apollo50thhttps://t.co/kGNVggUlpX
TFW one of the most highly-cited papers in your discipline is literally about why landing on the moon is significantly easier than solving complex political problems. pic.twitter.com/ltihu6yDJE— Stian Westlake (@stianwestlake) July 22, 2019
Note: re-entry *required* an awful lot of friction.— Andy Lewis (@lecanardnoir) July 22, 2019
We also have an off the shelf solution to frictionless trade which does not require rocket scientists to work for ten years. https://t.co/m2M6087x0i
Critics also pointed out that the Apollo 11 space programme required the efforts of some 400,000 staff, according to CNN.
And the initiative cost $25.4bn between 1969 and 1973, records from the time said, equal to around $146bn (£116bn) today.
400,000 people worked on the Apollo programme at a total cost of a quarter trillion USD— The Third Man (@ThirdMan__) July 21, 2019
MIT designed and built the Apollo guidance computer. The issues were vast and exceptionally complex, and its design ground breaking
Boris Johnson underestimates the task at hand once again.
And in any case, others said, it was America’s achievement – not ours.
"We," didn't put a man on the Moon.— James Doleman (@jamesdoleman) July 22, 2019
America did. pic.twitter.com/qojtwXmnL9
Johnson’s column, which was published online on Sunday and ran in the print edition of the Telegraph on Monday, draws his latest contract with the paper to a close. The former foreign secretary has been paid an estimated £2.7m by the Telegraph since 2001.