Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Order Two Zero Zero Five: Code 11A

Another of the shuttles landed for the last time today: Discovery.

I'm in two minds about it. The rational lefty in me says: the space program was a militaristic, masculinist fantasy of Cold War willy-waving with very little serious science achieved (though we do have sat-nav and non-stick frying-pans), and the shuttles were the silliest of the lot (the Soviets copied it, flew their version once, then went back to rockets). Add to that the money which could have been spent on feeding, clothing and educating people down here - and the stupidity of those American techno-loons who think it's OK to despoil our planet because hey, we're all going to live in space or upload ourselves at the singularity and the case for giving up on manned space trips is conclusive.

The SF-reading romantic in me is very sad. The shuttles were simply beautiful. Space is the 'final frontier'. People need a dream, and there's something very seductive about being off our world, swooping amongst the moons and stars. The space program offered the possibility of striving for something more noble than the squabbling for petty advantage which makes up our quotidian existence, even if the original motivation was less honourable. Looking down from space gives every astronaut a new perspective on our priorities and behaviour: looking up at space should do the same for us. I'm genuinely sad that as a species we've largely given up on adventure, even though I know that we should be asking all the genius scientists who made it possible to focus their energies on cleaning up our water and air, replacing oil, feeding the hungry and finding new apps to distract me from doing any actual work.

I'm saddest of all that William Shatner will never get a trip into space. If one man deserves a free ride, it's him. And that the shuttles are just landing, rather than having a dramatic auto-destruct sequence and going out in a blaze of glory across the skies. Not even the Enterprise, named after the fictional spaceship after a campaign by fans.

Here are two auto-destruct scenes from the show and a later film:

and the result:

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