Newspaper review: 'Space dream shattered'

As a crash investigation begins in earnest, Sunday's papers are not slow at picking over the story of the demise of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo during a test flight on Friday.

The Observer says Sir Richard Branson has offered wealthy would-be astronauts a refund of the £150,000 they had paid to take his company's spacecraft on its proposed commercial flights, which were due to start next year.

Image copyright AFP

The tycoon, who the paper says looked "strained" as he gave an emotional press conference at the crash scene, remained sure his venture would launch, despite the tragedy.

"We would love to finish what we started some years ago and I think pretty well all our astronauts would love us to finish and would love to go into space," the paper quotes him as saying.

Sir Richard's confidence that he can get the goal of everyday space travel back on track is not shared by many newspaper pundits.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Oliver Poole says: "If air travel were as risky as space flight, statisticians have calculated, there would be 272 plane crashes a day. Virgin Galactic's approach was meant to be the safe and simple solution.

"But as last week's tragic event showed, there is no safe or simple solution to reaching space.

"It may have taken only 66 years to go from the flight of the first plane to putting men on the Moon. But reaching the era of mass space travel is going to take much longer."

Tom Bowers, Sir Richard's biographer, writes in the Sunday Times: "Contrary to Branson's pleas that Friday's explosion was a sad but normal risk for those experimenting at the cutting edge of science, Virgin Galactic was crippled from the outset by a flawed design.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Sir Richard Branson

"His self-imposed - and repeatedly delayed - deadlines to take his first passengers to the edge of space meant that the risks were anything but normal."

These alleged flaws are the subject of the Sunday Telegraph's lead story.

The paper says it has "seen emails and other documents in the public domain - dating back several years, and as recently as last year - in which the engineers warned of the dangers of Virgin Galactic's rocket engine system."

In particular, the paper says, there have been doubts expressed over the safety of the nitrous oxide propulsion system used in the rocket.

Propulsion expert Carolynne Campbell tells the paper: "This explosion is not a surprise. None whatsoever, I am sorry to say.

"It is exactly what I was expecting. It was Russian roulette which test flight blew up."

Sir Richard has said his company will take time to learn from the crash, which killed one pilot, and it was "irresponsible" to comment on the crash before the investigation has been concluded.


Railings

A humble T-shirt has found itself at the centre of a row in Sunday's press.

The garments, made by London fashion company Whistles for the campaign group the Fawcett Society, have the logo "this is what a feminist looks like". They have become something of an internet meme, with celebrities and politicians such as Labour's Ed Miliband and Deputy PM Nick Clegg being pictured wearing them. Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman recently wore one in the House of Commons.

However, the Mail on Sunday claims they were stitched together in Mauritius by workers who sleep in 16-to-a-room dormitories and earn 62p an hour.

The pay and conditions "amount to exploitation", the paper says.

Image copyright Elle/Fawcett Society
Image caption Messieurs Clegg and Miliband model the Fawcett Society's T-shirt

The company selling the shirt in the UK for £45 each has promised an investigation, and the Fawcett Society - which campaigns on gender issues, including low pay for women - said it was "disappointed" to learn that the factory making the shirts may not live up to the "ethical standards" it advocates.

Sunday Times' columnist Camilla Cavendish questions the point of the "feminist" shirts.

"The suffragette motto was 'deeds not words'.

"Taking a selfie in a piece of 'statement' clothing is a far cry from chaining yourself to a railing," she says.

It's a viewpoint which is echoed by Elizabeth Day in the Observer.

"What does a feminist look like? Judging by this lot, a feminist looks like a white, middle-aged bloke in need of a promotional opportunity," she decides.

On the subject of female equality, the Independent on Sunday publishes a story saying that Labour is demanding a legal requirement for companies to publish details of the pay gap between its male and female employees.

The paper reveals: "Average earnings for women in the UK fell from £18,000 to £15,400, [in the last four years] while for men the figure has remained roughly the same".

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Only a third of us look forward to going to work

Low-pay stress is perhaps part of the reason another story in the Indy finds there has been a big increase in workplace illness and accidents.

A survey for the TUC finds only a third of Britons look forward to going to work, with the rest either "ambivalent" or "dreading it".

The Observer's lead story reveals some good news for those in low-paid jobs. It reports on a "surge" of firms committed to paying its employees at least the "living wage".

With the Living Wage Foundation set to update what it says is the minimum level for a wage sufficient to support a family, the paper says 60,000 British workers will enjoy a pay-rise next week.

But the paper uses its opinion column to berate the government for not doing more to promote the Living Wage concept.

"On its watch, low-to-average income families with children have taken the hardest hit, from its zealously pursued austerity drive and its shameful lack of commitment to tackling the toxic malady of falling real wages," it says.


'Victimhood and grievance'

Sunday's political analysts are out in force to look at the position Labour finds itself in Scotland, as two opinion polls find the party trailing the SNP by a huge margin, in its former stronghold.

Iain Martin, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says that ordinarily, the polls might not matter much, but they have to be seen "in the context of the United Kingdom's craziest general election for several generations".

The "toxic allegation" from former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont that the party's London HQ treated Scotland "as a branch office" has "sucked it into an electoral black hole", Martin writes.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jim Murphy is the London newspapers' choice for Scottish Labour leader, but will he be the party's choice?

He says making shadow development minister Jim Murphy Labour's new Scottish leader is the only hope of making it electable.

"Mr Murphy must, from the wreckage, somehow construct a winning proposition that restricts the number of SNP gains next year and makes Labour competitive in a tightly fought Westminster election."

John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday is scathing on the subject of Ms Lamont's departure.

Blaming the national party was a "straight SNPism. Blame everything on London, whinge, complain, victimhood and grievance".

He adds: "To suggest that Labour's problem in Scotland is the nature of the link between the UK party and the Scottish party is to accept the SNP's argument that all Scotland's problems are caused by its relationship with England. She might as well have defected."

Former Labour "spin doctor" Damian McBride is characteristically headline-catching in a piece for the Mail on Sunday which is headlined: "Labour's mafioso back-stabbing in Scotland makes Macbeth look like Mrs Brown's boys... and it could be the death of the Union".

McBride says: "Labour is paying a heavy price for leading the recent campaign against independence, and persuading the Scottish people they'd be better off voting 'No'.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Damian McBride

"Its core voters in cities such as Glasgow and Dundee felt betrayed by the party standing on a platform with the hated Tories.

"Having done so, Labour is now held accountable for delivering the cross-party promises of further devolution made in that frantic fortnight before the vote.

"Every day those promises remain undelivered, the clamour grows that [Ed] Miliband's party has deceived Scotland into rejecting independence."

McBride also backs Mr Murphy as the man who might be able to save Scottish Labour from electoral calamity.

"His message to [Mr] Miliband is simple: my job is winning seats for Scottish Labour MPs next May and winning back the Scottish Assembly in 2016.

"I'll do whatever it takes to achieve that. You worry about your end."


'Occasional shuffling noises'

Lighter stories are in short supply in the Sundays, but the Mail does supply a couple.

Page 3 brings what the paper says might be "the most gruesome thing you'd read all year" - the spider living in singer Katie Melua's ear.

The paper says Ms Melua's "real-life horror" came to life after the singer heard "scratching noises" and consulted her doctor.

The medic found a small spider inside Ms Melua's "shell-like", and deduced it had been there for a week, having travelled thence on a pair of old in-ear headphones.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Katie Melua pictured in happier, non-spider infested times

After removing the arachnid with a suction device, the Mail says the star posted a picture of it on Instagram and popped it in a test tube.

She seems fine about her unexpected guest, saying: "It was no hassle at all, apart from the occasional shuffling noises."

In a second animal story, the Mail reports on what must be the country's first blue plaque to honour a dog.

The plaque, due to go up at a club in London's Piccadilly, marks the place where the famous painting of Nipper -for many years the HMV mascot - was completed.

The paper notes the terrier cross was painted from memory by artist Francis Barraud, as the dog had died four years earlier.

And finally, as they used to say on the TV news, have you ever wondered what food healthy eating advocate Jamie Oliver has a "weird obsession" with?

The answer, according to the Sunday Times, is salt-and-vinegar Hula Hoops.

The chef tells the paper he eats the the potato-based snack "by the boxful", despite having tried to kick the habit.

"Once the manufacturer found out that he enjoyed the product it sent him large quantities," the paper says.

"Rather than share them, I hid them away like a squirrel with his nuts," the 39-year-old confesses.

Expect to see them on school menus shortly.

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