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Tomorrow’s world

Paying millions for a space odyssey

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/Getty Images

Space tourism is back on track “after some early snags (crashes)”, says Robert Shrimsley in the FT. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are planning more launches, and next month Jeff Bezos will be fired into space on his New Shepard rocket. “The heavens may soon be rich with plutocrats.”

Only plutocrats can afford it – a space flight on Virgin Galactic is expected to cost up to $250,000, and that’s the “Ryanair end” of the market. When Bezos auctioned the chance to join him on next month’s launch, the as yet unnamed top bidder coughed up $28m. Last year SpaceX teamed up with another firm to offer several days on a private space station for $55m – pretty steep, given that it “doesn’t even have a pool”.

They do throw in a few days’ training, which presumably involves “swanking around an air base” in a flying suit with the word “astronaut” sewn on the pocket and “feasting on freeze-dried breakfasts”. But I don’t mind if space tourism remains a rich person’s sport. Brits in Magaluf are bad enough. “Do we really want them in space, banging on the rocket door and singing ‘Two world wars and one World Cup’ to all the passing meteors?”

Global powers are circling the Arctic 

Lev Fedoseyev/Tass/Getty Images

Since the end of the Cold War, the countries that border the Arctic Circle have played nice, says Kristina Spohr in the New Statesman. But as global warming melts the ice, opening new shipping lanes and resources, a geopolitical scramble is beginning. Russia launched Arctic military exercises in March, complete with nuclear submarines. It’s been refitting its Cold War bases up north and has sunk billions of roubles into a “fleet of 50 icebreakers”.

Nato and the Nordic countries are spooked. Norway is planning Cold Response 2022, which will be the biggest joint military winter exercise inside the Arctic Circle since the 1980s. The US has sent B-1B Lancer bombers to Norway for the first time and Denmark is beefing up its surveillance capabilities in Greenland. China is keen to break into the region as well – it announced itself as a “near-Arctic state” in 2018 and developing a “Polar Silk Road” is part of its five-year plan for 2021-25. This diplomatic minefield doesn’t bode well for the “intense co-operation” needed to safeguard the Arctic’s increasingly fragile ecosystem.

Music enters a new dimension 

Maria Voronovich/Getty Images

Spatial audio is being hailed as the biggest shift in the way we listen to music “since mono became stereo more than 60 years ago”, says Jonathan Dean in The Sunday Times. Developed by Dolby for cinemas, it tricks the brain by adjusting the frequencies each ear can hear to create an illusion of surround sound. “It is like picking individual elements of a tune and dotting them around a planetarium above our head.” Songs compressed into mush by streaming services are magically stretched out: I put on the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun and suddenly “George Harrison is everywhere”. When Doves Cry sounds so immersive, “I thought Prince was living inside my brain”.

Spatial audio is now available for thousands of songs on the Apple Music streaming service. Listen to a demo here – don’t forget your headphones.