There is something about that photograph that gives me shivers. It is a photograph of a spacecraft that is currently sitting on Mars after a 422 million mile flight. It landed yesterday (25th May 2008) and whilst it is carrying out several scientific experiments about ice and atmosphere it has me in total awe of the red planet that is only a couple of hundred million miles away.
I suppose I have always had a mild fascination with Space as any young boy brought up on Thunderbirds and Lego did, it was only in my university years that I really understood that whilst we had been out there, and in theory been to the moon as a race, that was like taking a trip down onto your doorstep with one foot compared to walking all the way to the shops, buying some milk, and walking beyond into the wilderness.
The incredible thing is that a few years ago things still felt disconnected. By this I mean that I only knew the shape of the countries as a flat out map that was on my bedroom wall and that we were supposed to assume that we would expect to believe it. As when I was child I thought my world ended at the woods near my house, I then as a teenager knew the world up until the end of Glasgow as my endeavours as a driver allowed me to drive to I got to the limits of what I knew. Driving from Aberdeen to Glasgow gave me the realisation that I could just drive down the road to London and keep going, Charlie Boorman/Ewan McGregor style.
With the release of Google Earth suddenly the world seemed like one place rather than a collection of places. The zoom from your garden to the whole world that once amazed me in films could be done in seconds on my computer.
What does this have to do with space? Well, nothing other than my knowledge of the boundaries of our knowledge as a species is minimal at best. Reading Stephen Hawkings’ opus A Brief History of Time, in which he enthusiastically explains how little we know, I came to the conclusion the overall futility of it all.
But seeing that photo of that spacecraft hundreds of millions of miles away you realise just how little we know but how far it can take us. In my lifetime I expect to see men on Mars, how sci-fi it might seem. I also expect Space Travel to the Moon to become touristic, how boring and pointless it might seem. Imagine that the steps that had taken place during the 60s and 70s in space travel had never slowed down – we probably would have been like Space: 1999, however unlikely it might seem now.
I never grew up during the real space race but I might live through the second space race – not one of discovery or frontier smashing, but one of commercial competition, and I can’t wait.