Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spaced Out

Aside from the prospect of nuclear armageddon, the future looked good in the early 1960s:

In some ways I'm very relieved that we aren't all living in domed cities and flying helicars - I think the novelty would wear off quite quickly - but I do miss the optimism of the Space Age. Regardless of its scientific value, there is a heroic quality about manned space flight that excites us.

When the space shuttles were decommissioned without being replaced, it was part of a subtle shift that has taken place in our attitude towards the future. I became particularly aware of this when my youngest son asked me why there were supersonic airliners and moon landings when I was a little boy, but not now.

As he was too young for a lecture on postmodernism and the cultural legacy of the end of the Cold War, I gave him the short answer: they cost too much money.

But NASA's estimate that a return to the moon would cost $104 billion seems a drop in the ocean compared to the $757.8 billion that the US Department of Defense claims that it spent in Iraq (some claim that it's much higher in reality).

Maybe it's just the chattering classes of Lewes (aka 'Islington-on-the-Downs'), but whoever I talk to there is a growing pessimism about the future. People seem to be battening down the hatches, buying wood burning stoves, preparing for an age of hardship and struggle.

Returning to the moon might seem a frivilous and irrelevant enterprise, but it would help to foster a new sense of optimism. Posterity never condemns a generation for spending too much money on a beautiful building or a miraculous piece of engineering, but it does condemn them for a lack of vision and courage.

That's my geeky fantasy, anyway. Obviously, this would be the ideal:

I know that I should be thinking about eradicating third world debt, saving public libraries and reducing our carbon emissions, rather than moonbases run by women in catsuits. I'm sorry.

I must admit I not all there at the moment. I've been bedridden with a chest infection for the last three days and I think the drugs are getting to me, hence this strange post. I hate being ill.

The one thing that's keeping me sane is Somerset Maugham's 'Of Human Bondage', which I'm reading for the first time. Who would have thought that a 1915, 700-page bildungsroman could be so compelling? (Don't tell me how it ends)

But as the author wrote:

"To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life".


Mrs Jones said...

Preach it, Sistah! I did a similar post a while back about missing the Space Age of my youth but then deciding that, in fact, we ARE living in the future we envisaged (sort of) after all - But, yeah, I still want my flying car...

Hope you feel better soon.

Martin said...

Sorry to hear that you've been hit with another bug. At least you're finding effective ways to escape the misery of a sick-bed. I remember watching the first moon-landing and, although I was glued to the screen like so many others, I discovered I had no desire to experience space travel myself. There must have been enough on Terra firma to keep my interest.

Annabel (gaskella) said...

I miss the space age too - it was so exciting. I was newly nine when we landed on the moon, and not much has ever come close to the excitement of those times.
I am an optimist by nature, but I'm finding that the pessimism of today's troubles is always trying to drag me down. I won't let it!

Anonymous said...

Maugham is wonderful. I have the four volumes of his short stories and have read them several times. Do pick them up if you see them.

Rog said...


I hear there were riots in the Lewes Waitrose when Taramasalata and Hummus were recently both withdrawn from sale.

A double-dip recession apparently.

David said...

It may cost a lot, but we've got to get out there into space - no point in the human race sitting here on Earth discussing the weather until the Sun explodes.

I'm afraid though that the writing was on the wall when we got to 2000 without personal jetpacks or monorails. The future isn't what it was.

Steerforth said...

Sorry, I'm feeling too ill to write coherent replies, but thanks for cheering me up.

Double-dip recession indeed... ;)

Richmonde said...

Reading OHB for the first time? You lucky man! Do us a review when finished.

Sarah said...

Maugham was right, and I wish my boys would hurry up and acquire it (some hope).

I always wanted to travel on Concorde. Space travel has always seemed way too dodgy for me, but they are building a space station, so all is not lost for those who want to dream.

Get well soon. Cheer yourself up with a hot toddy.

DJK said...

Great post.

Of Human Bondage is a real treat, and much too little known.


Hope you're feeling a bit better. I think of the room with the flower power bedding you posted a picture of (where you were confined as a child) when you're unwell.
That hardship and struggle people talk about - I remember Morrissey being interviewed on The One Show. Chiles pretty much urged him to offer sympathy to those who had lost their jobs. Morrissey, deadpan, offered; "do something creative instead" .
Maybe he is right, if the resurgence in knitting, baking, mending and all manner of DIY is anything to go by. Less greed and less money spent on huge, adventurous projects could result in smaller but highly significant breakthroughs.
What on earth am I going on about?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I think you are far from delirious Steerforth and actually make a valid point - what happened to all that optimism and excitement we used to have about the future indeed...? What a poignant and insightful question on the part of your six year old.

And strangely enough I was thinking only today - WHO is paying for 11 years of a war we never asked for and which is not directly benefiting Britain as far as I can see? Exactly where are they salting away the enormous cost, or is that why all our libraries are at risk?

But yes, once the libaries are secured, I am all for seeing further space exploration if it keeps mankind out of mischief on the fighting front and also renews that old post-war optimism we used to enjoy.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

PS: Get better soonest! Lx

Brett said...

We could see the Apollo rockets leave the earth from Orlando, where I grew up. Fun clips, thanks!