Friday, June 06, 2008

.....One Giant Leap for Sandkind

Back in the days when I wore short pants, I wanted to be an astronaut.

Actually never mind when I was in my 30's, I wanted to be an astronaut back when I was in primary school.

I was almost 9 years old when on May 25th 1961, President Kennedy delivered his famous speech before a joint session of Congress. After a bit of nonsense about fighting Communism, helping the economy and more spending for the military, he came to the good stuff :

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish".

I'd never wanted to be American so much in my short life as at that moment. Going to the moon ? Where do I sign up ?

Of course this is just very slightly untrue as it was 1961. I was 8 yrs old, living in a small town in rural N. Ireland where electricity, never mind tv or radio, was still several decades away from reaching our house. My dad didn't want it anyway.

"Electricity ? It's the work of the devil" he'd say. Having looked at my last power bill, I'd have to say he wasn't far wrong.

So ok I don't remember hearing THAT speech at the time but I think I probably read about it in The Times the next day. We were a well read family. I was inspired.

Space, the final frontier. To boldly go where no man.....oh hang on, that was Star Trek. Sorry.

But I was hooked and still am. Sadly shortly after he made that speech, I had to get glasses and my dream of going into space, without the use of recreational drugs, was gone forever. And so I decided on the next best thing - I'd be as close to the astronauts as possible by becoming a NASA computer expert. My future career was set. I was going to be a geek.

Fast forward 10 years or so and I was at Leicester studying Computer Science with images of Mission Control firmly in my mind. Fast forward another couple of years and I was working for a supermarket company and continued working there for the next 25 years. Don't you just hate unfulfilled dreams. Admittedly I was in IT all those years but it just wasn't the same.

I was sending new software updates to ASDA stores nationwide when I really wanted to be sending command module updates to the Apollo capsule. I once tried to reroute the checkout software destined for ASDA Killingbeck to Houston but I came up against their firewall.

I was even jealous of James Burke as I felt I could've done his job just as well. Every time NASA sent up a rocket, the BBC dragged Burke out to dumb down all the technical stuff by using a long pointer and lots of little Blue Peter style models. I could've done that. I bet he got to meet lots of cool astronauts and did cool stuff. He was cool. I wanted to be cool.

But I wasn't cool.

In 1989 NASA finally called me and I went to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Ok I actually called THEM to get their opening times but I DID go. That must count for something. I met with an astronaut too. In a space suit. Him, not me. I shook his gloved hand and had my picture taken. It was pre digital and like my dreams, it got lost somewhere over the years.

Of course the rest, as they say, is history. They went to the moon without me. Bastards.

Now of course, every billionaire and his dog can go into space. It's no biggie. Even Brits can go.

And speaking of Britain, what have we contributed to the Space Age ? Well we had Mr. Burke of course. And Jodrell Bank over in Cheshire listens for radio waves from deep space as part of the search for intelligent life, so that rules out The Terry Wogan Show. And the Teletubbies ? Oh come on people, you can't tell me Tinky Winky wasn't OUT THERE.

But now we're really getting into the swing of things and we have, drum roll, Project Moonlite. No that's not a rerun of that show with a young and hairy Bruce Willis. No, this is cutting edge technological stuff.

Get this. We're going to shoot projectiles deep under the surface of the moon to do lots of tests and as they always say, to discover more about the origins of the universe. Seems to me everything that is sent into space is somehow supposed to help scientists learn more about these origins. How much more do we need to know, for God's sake ? Long time ago, big bang, lots of bits going everywhere, stars, planets, moon, earth. Sorted. Move on.

Anyway down in Pendine, near Tenby in South Wales, the British boffins, presumably wearing long white coats and holding clip boards, fired 3 penetrator missiles (I kid you not) at 700mph into a sand bunker designed to mimic the lunar surface. The grand idea is that in 2013, 4 similar missiles, full of test equipment, will be fired from an orbiting spacecraft to end up 10 feet under the surface of the moon.

You couldn't write this stuff.

I hope this spacecraft will be orbiting the moon and not the earth cause if we are involved, these missiles could go anywhere. If they use anything like my TomTom for guidance, they may well end up on Pluto.

"In 240,000 miles, turn left. Then keep left and you have reached your destination".

It'll all be very exciting I'm sure. I hope they bring James out of mothballs so he can explain it all to us. He can use his football Earth and golf ball moon again too. He can be a hero to a whole new generation.

I can just hear it now.

"Tenby, we have a problem. Anyone got a match ?"


Daphne said...

And thus we have two of my interests - Tenby and Space Exploration - combined. Now THAT's a good story.
nb James Burke was never cool. He did cool stuff whilst maintaining a rich persona of Uncool. You'd have been far cooler.

Jennyta said...

My claim to fame, which is obliquely related - Colin Pillinger of Beagle fame went to my school.

Silverback said...

...........and will the next contestant sign in please.

Jay said...

I'm laughing my socks off - you wrote that so well! LOL! And I'm sending the link to Other Half, who will love it.

Yellow Swordfish said...

I have often wondered what happened to James Burke. One minute he was everywhere - Tomorrows Word, 'Connections' and, as you say, strutting his stuff to Richard Strauss. And then - vanished!

Anyway - you're not alone. The bastards went to the moon without me as well.

Ruth said...

James Burke has something called the James Burke Institute which created something called the Knowledge Web -

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