Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Screwdrivers in Space

A choice for the discerning viewer this evening. Should it be the Royal Variety Show on television or a live spacewalk at the International Space Station viewed over the internet on NASA TV?

I chose the spacewalk. It was strangely addictive even though all I could see for much of the time was a man’s gloved hands – the camera was fixed to his head - working a screwdriver to bolt on extra bits of the space station. Most of the astronauts are American but apparently there’s a Swedish one who’s been having quite a few problems with it all: I have a theory that they’ve given him a diagram of Ikea self-assembly furniture to work from, in a sort of international plot for revenge on behalf of everyone who’s ever bought from there.

The space station looks exactly as you’d expect: ie like a bit of the set from the sci-fi spoof Red Dwarf. Lots of pipes and tubes and bits of metal. I kept looking to see if there were any egg-boxes glued on and sprayed silver.

We kept returning to a map of the world showing the space station hovering over Australia, and also to Mission Control, or, as they used to say it in the old Apollo days, Missioncontrolhouston. I was pleased to see that they still had all the banks of monitors, though strangely the picture is now in colour when it never used to be in 1969, and there aren’t as many strange beeps and whirrs as there used to be. Probably the man in charge of them has retired. There are also little American flags all over the place. Funny lot, Americans, needing to be reminded where they are all the time.

They’re bolting on a new bit to the space station, and of course all the tools are kept on the space equivalent of bits of string – otherwise if you drop your screwdriver it clears right off to Alpha Centauri or somewhere. Of course, it’s rather important that they get all the bits in the right place. I expect they practised on the lawn before they set off, like you do with the tent before you go camping.

So, a pair of gloved hands doing a bit of DIY – not too interesting on the face of it. But I still have that rush of excitement dating from the Moon missions in the late sixties and early seventies (I was VERY VERY YOUNG, let’s be clear about that). I don’t think younger people have ever experienced that kind of excitement, and I think it’s a shame that this mission hasn’t captured the national consciousness more.

Behind the man with the gloved hands is part of a circle, mostly blue. Oh yes, that’s the Earth. Wow.


Blogger John said...

During the Apollo missions, Mrs Battey, the lady who helped our nextdoor neighbour with her housework, was heard to remark that though she liked the space exploration on television she wished they wouldn't swear so much.

When pressed she pointed out all the beeps that had to put in when they broadcast the communications between Apollo and Mission Control.

9:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cute, John, very cute.

I was a child of the Space Program back in the late 60's and watching the Moon landing will always live in my memory. Whatever happened to James Bruke ???

My interest was revived a few years ago when I finaly got to see a shuttle launch as an official NASA guest and what a nerve tingling, ear splitting experience it was. I've also been lucky enough to visit Mission Control in Houston but sadly had to make do with seeing the complete copy of the control room on the floor above which they have set up for training and testing purposes as well as backup. NASA don't do things by halves. The main room was being prepared for an upcoming mission so was off limits.

I remember being slightly disappointed by the computer consoles as they looked like old technology but was told they'd deliberately kept the outer casings from the earliest missions (Mercury/Gemini) but that the 'innards' were 100% up to date. Nintendo 2 level or whatever !

Course it was all done on a Hollywood studio set anyway............

7:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry... Mr Burke......I went all dyslexic there.

7:08 pm  

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