Thursday, 18 April 2019

Space Exploration - Inspirational, captivating and amazing - This Week's ReadItTorial

No it won't fit in your Vauxhall Corsa...
I make no apologies for this week's slightly skewed ReadItTorial. We've just come back from 3 weeks in sunny Florida, soaking up the sun and - more importantly - visiting a place that has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.

The Kennedy Space Centre is an amazing place at the best of times, but we visited a few days before the Falcon Heavy / Space X Launch, you could almost TASTE the anticipation in the air. There was a buzz going around Kennedy, a frisson of excitement that made it feel like once again the place was coming back to life after being mothballed for so long - with SpaceX and Boeing both taking part in exciting rocket projects, and with the phrase heard throughout the day definitely being "Bringing space launches back to American soil".

Of course it's massively important to the USA and Kennedy to see legendary Pad 39 being put back into action. Not just from a sense of patriotism (something you can't escape when you're walking around the place, Americans sure love sticking their flag on anything, even distant astral bodies) but from a sense of opening a new chapter in our quest for space, and inspiring the many, many young kids who were (like most of us adults) walking around the place, completely agog at the rockets, capsules and of course the mighty Space Shuttle Atlantis - but also carrying the knowledge that new projects are kicking off, that space exploration is still important, still happening, and could still be a viable career path for a lucky, lucky few.

Sadly for us, a few days later - the day we staked out our spot on nearby Cocoa Beach to watch the Falcon Heavy go up was also one of the windiest days of our holiday.

We'd made the journey from Orlando all the way over to the coast, sat for HOURS on a burning hot beach only for the mission to be suspended (as it turned out, just for a day and we're kicking ourselves that by the time the Falcon did launch, we were a 6 hour drive away, right on the other side of Florida in Clearwater, and wouldn't have made it back in time to see the launch itself).

So close...yet so far! ARGH!

Walking around, it was so easy to see why the subject of space travel and exploration is so inspirational for kids. Listening in on a couple of school groups who shared the tour bus with us as we drove around the complex, and went over to the massive Saturn V Rocket Centre, it was joyous to hear a different point of view from the last time we attended a space event, and heard a rather dour and pessimistic view from a collective of Science Fiction authors (sorry ladies and gents who were there!)

The US is fired up again with renewed vigour to explore the great unknown - not just because of the amazing commercial possibilities of harvesting resources from beyond our planet (and let's face it, commercial concerns now bringing life back to the space program are of course thinking about investment returns on the billions of dollars they're sinking into these enterprises) and definitely not from some ridiculous need for a "Space Force". But from a scientific point of view, here are new opportunities to showcase our amazing achievements in all branches of science and engineering, pushing the boundaries of technology way beyond anyone's expectations.

Mission control we are go for launch!

It was an amazing place to visit though, and it was great to see C walking around with an identical expression to my own. One of sheer awe. For me though the most inspirational and fascinating parts of visiting Kennedy were seeing the original Mercury and Gemini mission rockets and capsules, suits, technology and other artefacts which were amazingly primitive-looking, and yet were cutting edge tech for their time.

The men who donned those suits knew that they were entering unknown territory, and would be likely to pay for their bravado with their lives if even the simplest thing went wrong, but they stepped up and made so many of those missions a success (seeing the original Gemini capsules just made me realise what it must've been like climbing into something not much bigger than an oversized wheelie bin sitting atop a huge firework!)

Looking to the future, and despite the seemingly futile hope and dream that we might one day see manned missions to Mars, I like to think that Gene Krantz, the legendary astronaut and mission controller had it right. "Nothing's impossible. You dream it, then you do it"

For all those authors and illustrators out there working on space books, keep on doing what you're doing because it's so worth it - inspiring kids in the way you do, and it really does work!