Space Truckers Ryan on small screen moving computer across Europe

Space Truckers Ryan on small screen moving computer across Europe

29 November 2017

ARDGLASS astrophysicist Ryan Milligan features in a BBC NI television documentary broadcast next week.

Funded by NASA, Ryan is also a truck driver and he combines both disciplines in next Monday night’s Space Truckers programme which sees him transport a £300,000 super computer for a space telescope from Belgium to Ireland.

Ryan’s mission is to boldly go where no Ardglass trucker has gone before and along with sidekick Noel Howley, the pair are responsible for bringing the brains of the state-of-the-art LOFAR radio telescope to its new home in Birr, in Co Offaly, on board an articulated truck. 

While the telescope will allow scientists to listen to a radio signature at the very start of time, Ryan and Noel have just 72 hours to complete their journey from Zwiggelte to Birr and are up against the clock every step of the way to meet their deadline.

Ryan and and Noel have to transport the delicate cargo 1,000 miles by land and sea to the specialist team waiting in Birr to install the equipment. But will the duo be able to make it as they navigate traffic jams, a cancelled ferry and country lanes?

Growing up working in his father’s fish factory in Ardglass, Ryan learned his truck driving skills but always wanted to pursue his interest in the stars and study Astrophysics. 

For 13 years he studied solar flares for NASA and Queen’s University. Now he has the chance to merge his skills and transport the essential piece of space equipment. As one of the team describes it – bringing astronomy back home to Birr, once the astronomy capital of the world.

The telescope’s remarkable journey has been five years in the making with the team behind the overall project needing to raise two million Euro in funding in order to get it to happen. 

The new equipment will allow scientists to study exploding stars, supernovae and pulsars – discovered by Northern Ireland’s Jocelyn Bell Burnell – and do more cutting edge science. 

During the journey from Belgium with a captive audience in the form of Noel, Ryan gives audiences some insights into the world of astrophysics, explaining what the LOFAR telescope is capable of and what its research means for the public with some explanatory diagrams on the side of Noel’s Scania truck thrown in for good measure. It is a delicate operation from start to finish and there’s no time to waste. 

Even if the duo makes it to Birr on schedule, the last telescope transported down those narrow country lanes was by horse and cart in 1845. The LOFAR science team certainly don’t want a telescope that’s fallen off the back of a lorry.

Space Truckers is made by Stellify Media for BBC Northern Ireland and broadcasts next Monday night at 10.40pm.