Cosmic Colliery - an astronaut training centre in the South Wales Valleys? Gareth Farr

Boyo in space: Hefin in his space suit made
of Welsh materials © Hefin Jones
Gareth Farr from BGS Wales talks about zero gravity, abandoned mines and community engagement in Penallta, South Wales.
It was a normal day in the BGS Cardiff office.  The phone rang and Jane, BA to the Chief Geologist Wales, passed the call over to me. I stopped what I was doing, put my cup of coffee down and picked up the phone. Now we are used to receiving a wide range of questions from the public and professionals all of which we enjoy answering, however this one was going to turn out to be stranger than most.
Putting the phone to my ear I was greeted by a familiar Welsh accent, 'how can I help' I said, expecting a normal day to day query. The man on the phone, introduces himself as Hefin Jones (a good Welsh name) and gets ready to outline his query….. 'I would like to open an astronaut training centre in South Wales and I am thinking of using abandoned mine shafts to create an underground zero gravity training facility'. 
Now this is the point where most people would either rub their eyes, check they were actually awake and not dreaming, or question the strength of their coffee. However, as I like to think I am open minded I let Hefin carry on, 'so explain your idea a little more' I suggested.  Not wanting to dash his hopes I gently told him of the dangers of abandoned mines and that the likelihood anyone in an expensive white space suit would want to dive to the bottom of an abandoned shaft filled with ocherous water,  was extremely if not totally unlikely. The conversation ran on for a while, I just didn't get it, perhaps it was a prank call? Hefin told me he had a website I should look at, he dictates the address to me 'Hefinjones dot co dot uk forward-slash swc'. I type it into the browser and hit the return key (CLICK HERE if you want to follow the story).
Cosmic Colliery logo: design by
Aron Jones © Hefin Jones
I was greeted (as you will be if you have followed the link) by a chap wearing a space suit, made of Welsh wool complete with traditional clogs, it clicked, and relieved I thought 'he must be an artist', and so began an unusual collaboration. Hefins concept of a Welsh Space training centre was just that, a concept. Its aim is to get people to think big, about 'what ifs' and about regeneration in the South Wales coalfield – a very similar theme to our recent work on mine water temperatures and their potential use for ground source heating. The project involved ex miners, a mine surveyor, diving instructors and local youth groups, all of whom got together, under the imposing pit head and wheel at Penallta Colliery, to dream big and plan the astronaut centre. The plans were all based on positive initiatives to regenerate ex mining areas and the concept of heating the centre using abandoned mine water were well received.
Our 3D Geological Model of the South Wales coalfield (Andy Hulbert, Carl Watson & Luz Ramos Cabrera) helped to illustrate the scale of mining in South Wales and the possibilities for using flooded mines for ground source heating. Calum Ritchie, our award winning cartographer, also created a bespoke map for inclusion in the exhibition booklet. Although this project was conceptual, it is thinking 'big' and 'outside of the box' that must have helped man take his first step on the moon, and more recently land a washing machine sized robot on an asteroid. If humankind can achieve such mind boggling feats then sustainable regeneration and low carbon ground source heating should surely be within our grasp. 
Coalfield Cartography: Calum Ritchie's bespoke map for the Cosmic Colliery exhibition
The Cosmic Colliery exhibition opens on the 9th September at the Design Museum London.


Really enjoyed reading that, hopefully imaginations will be stung into action in what I know is a horrendously deprived area.