Sunday, December 01, 2013

To infinty (well the moon) and beyond

It's not a toy - it's a space rover 

Last Saturday morning, as most mornings if it isn't pouring with rain, I walked round to the newsagents whilst the rest of the neighbourhood was apparently tucked up in bed. With my I-pod on, ski hat pulled down over my ears and the music from The Crash Reel playing between my ears I was in a world of my own. Everybody else's world was thinking about the fiftieth anniversary of Dr.Who or JFK and by some weird science I found myself looking up at the moon, pristine in the blue sky, the affect of the cold morning chill on my eyes adding a watery halo to our planets sole natural satellite.

The famous speeches of JFK had been broadcast over and over again the previous week concentrating mainly on that one where he confused doughnuts and hotdogs with the inhabitants of Berlin - or didn't depending on how you interpret it but the one that caught my imagination, albeit secondhand, as a child of the 1960's was the one he made on 12 September 1962 at the Rice University. It's worth reading the whole speech, it is less than two sides of A4 paper in length, because it is a genuinely inspiring slice of political propaganda in the truest sense, it is designed to influence its audience, both immediate and listening on radio by presenting the case for sending a manned spacecraft to the moon within a decade.

I had thought of that speech again this week when I heard a scientist on Radio Four saying that it was a real possibility that within the next two decades the Chinese Government would begin mining for minerals on the moon. Having grown up in the third decade of the 'Cold War' era the space race was always seen as more about the Americans beating the Russians to plant the flag on the Moon than it had been about advancing the possibilities of a permanent base on its surface, for that you would have to rely on Space 1999. Now though it seems that we are moving ever closer to those childish dreams of the 1960's becoming a reality with the news that the Chinese are about to attempt the first 'soft landing' on the Moon since I turned 16 - some thirty seven years ago.

This is either the stuff of dreams or nightmares depending on your point of view, whether you come at this as the beginnings of a new beginnings or the start of something more sinister, after all we know that China is the world's second largest consumer of oil, it's consumes 95% of all mineral ores and it has recently established itself as the world's largest consumer of bottled water and now it is sending a rocket to a place where, and I still find this incredible, only twelve people have set foot.  The fact that the name of the probe makes it sound like a green coloured sex toy is neither here nor there, the point is that Jade Rabbit* will be the probe that could decide whether or not the moon can be used as a giant off-planet laboratory for growing plants, crops and other experiments.

Thirty or forty years ago the idea of China landing anything on the moon would have been greeted with waves of hysteria and paranoia and let's be honest some laughter. After all back in the day China wasn't known for its technological excellence and even today its rise to the top in almost every area of technology and manufacturing development is down to a Government that manages to ignore international patents and copyrights with the sort of disregard a drunk driver has for the Highway Code. 

As with all events Chinese related the information gathered from the trip will be released on a drip-drip basis, probably over several years and then you get the feeling that we won't ever be privy to the full story. I don't have a problem with that I'm just interested to know whether or not there is actually a possibility that the Moon can sustain some sort of life, albeit one that is grown under extreme conditions.

* Jade Rabbit is the name of a moon dwelling white rabbit in Chinese mythology which is the pet of Chang'e, the lunar goddess who swallowed a pill of immortality.


Span Ows said...

If I had just seen saw the picture in the Independent and not the other picture in your post i woudl have said it was a Lego (or Duplo or whatever that stuff is) model.

RE JFK, nice speech, some good lines and as you say, especially for us, the underlying urgency and insistence that this is the decade it must happen.

Jade Rabbit - must be a sex toy.

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