OK so I haven’t actually been in Space for the last six weeks; but I have been immersed in all things Space as my elder-spawn and I undertook a road-trip to feed his Space obsession.
We visited Houston, Cape Canaveral, Washington, New York, Boston, and Darmstadt. The Space-geeks amongst you might be questioning what there is to see in Boston – the answer, is not much; Boston was feeding another two lines of geekness: history and Fallout 4.
It’s impossible to visit such a range of Space places and not be awed at the scope of the Space program and what has been achieved. If you want to point at an amazing thing modern people have achieved as a species, the Space program in all it’s aspects would have to qualify as a contender for top spot.
It was, sadly, very noticeable how one-eyed the description of Space exploration was at the American museums, to the point it became risible. There would be paragraphs detailing what the Americans had done and then one line at the end saying that the Russians had done it weeks or months earlier. I guess we were in America so I can’t really blame them, but it would have been pleasant to see this displayed as a triumph for humanity rather than for the USA; for all that much of it only came around because of the rivalry between the two superpowers of the 60s and 70s.
For things to see, Houston was probably the best. Going behind the scenes we actually saw where the astronauts train and even saw astronauts in training. We saw first hand that the newly-designed space suit needs some serious work as we watched a team fail to extricate an astronaut from its clutches.
Our favourite visit, though, was to the European Space Agency’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt. I think it was the best because it wasn’t a tourist show or a museum, it was the thing and we got right up close and personal with it.
In contrast the NASA space experiences were much more like a cross between a museum and a tour bus. They were fabulous because we got to see iconic things and places, but they lacked the sense of gritty reality we got from ESOC.
It was also interesting to contemplate how much of the US, and Soviet, Space programs were actually created with people and parts pilfered from the Germans at the end of WW2. Then we were in Germany seeing the European Space Agency with a truly multinational group of people working on their programs.
The other thing that ESOC drove home was that so much of modern space exploration involves miniaturised electronics and software coding. The operations are controlled by computer and the computers could be anywhere (as opposed to the old mission control centres with their hard-wired facilities).
In turn that led to the realisation that Australia really could carve out a roll for itself in Space. Although we are remarkably well-suited to hosting launching facilities, it doesn’t have to be all about big rockets that to make a serious and involved contribution. We just need to settle on an appropriate niche and then put time and effort into supporting its development.
The exploration of Space will continue to be of vital importance to the human race for decades and centuries to come. When you look at all that’s happening in the World, one of the worrying things from the point of view of my Space-obsessed spawn remains the difficulty of getting involved without having US or European citizenship and, ideally, without having to go and live in the USA. It’s great to see Australia finally starting things off, but until we can do some local Space tourism, we’ve got a long way to go.
Regular Sydney geekiness will now be resuming. If you’re interested in more on the trip, see the other blog.