To Infinity and Beyond!

The space shuttle Discovery blasted in to space yesterday carrying its usual payload of scientific doodads and a crew of clean-cut, athletic go-getters (I hate people like that). I know what you’re thinking: “Oh no, not another boring space launch. Change the channel. Change the channel!”

But something in the cargo caught my attention – a lightsaber used by Mark Hamil in Return of the Jedi. The kid in me wonders if there are really raging space battles taking place overhead that they need such a powerful weapon, but the realist in me figures it’s just a publicity stunt to earn George Lucas more money to throw on the pile.

Or maybe NASA has realized a simple truth – most of our knowledge comes from pop culture, so why not hitch a ride?

My first memories of space are from Star Wars, quickly followed by Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (Bidibidibidi, hey Buck). It’s how I saw space – a wild west frontier filled with lasers, wise-cracking pilots and short little robots.

Then came The Black Hole, Moonraker (a rather silly Bond film in retrospect) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, my first introduction to Gene Roddenberry’s world. At the tine we only got two channels on TV, so I’d never seen the characters – luckily the film didn’t put me off.

From there I was introduced to the original Star Trek and its myriad spin-offs, to the writing of Issac Asimov, 2001, Dune and happily to the brilliantly funny Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy required you to have at least a modicum of sci-fi knowledge.

While my head may have been buried in the stars I had no real knowledge – or interest for that matter – in the realities of space exploration. So when I recently found myself in Florida, not far from Cape Canaveral, I jumped at a chance for a tour.

We saw Discovery sitting on the launch site (covered in high-tech scaffolding) and many of the Apollo rockets that took men into space. And as I sat in the control room that was used during the moon landing, I was thinking about how The Simpsons got it right in Deep Space Homer.

Assistant: Sir, the TV ratings for the launch are the highest in ten years.
Scientist: And how's the spacecraft doing?
Assistant: I dunno. All this equipment is just used to measure TV ratings.

So maybe sending the lightsaber into space wasn’t just a Lucas publicity stunt and NASA understands that to connect people to the space missions it may need a little help from pop culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment