Jack’s weekly guest post –
Wendy and I were in Washington DC recently and, while she was attending to business, I got myself down to the air and space museum on the National Mall. It was the second time I’d been and the earlier visit some five years ago was of necessity brief. On this occasion I had three hours to spare and saw pretty much everything I’d missed last time.
I should explain here that I’m a sucker for anything to do with flying and have frittered away many hours of my life building model planes (the airborne variety).
Just inside the entrance to the museum sit many of the space exhibits, including the early capsules. I had never stood that close to one before, and I was astonished by what I saw. Here was a flimsy cone-shaped object barely bigger than the chair it enclosed, filled with very 1960s technology – toggle switches and dials that wouldn’t look out of place in a car of that era. A man sat in that thing and was shot into space, where he sailed along completely dependent on the calculations of colleagues sitting thousands of miles away. How on earth (ha!) could anyone do that?! Even the later moon landing vehicles aren’t all that much bigger, and still look incredibly fragile.
Carrying on through the museum I viewed the other machines, from the Wright Brothers’ famous Flyer through the early airliners and the first jet planes. The common thread was just how flimsy and ‘basic’ they all seemed. After visiting the museum, how anyone can get into a modern airliner without a pang of fear is beyond me.
So what connects the Wright brothers and their ilk to folk like Neil Armstrong? I can only presume that it’s complete confidence in the design of the craft that carries them and a sense that they’re breaking through a barrier – “to boldly go – – -”
Now, the odder question: what connects these space ramblings to our bookstore – apart from me indulging my love of flying machines?
We had a couple of visitors from Northern Virginia in the shop yesterday, market gardeners who are active in promoting community sustainability from the ground up (literally). While talking to them I suddenly got a picture in my mind of that famous photo of Earth taken by one of the astronauts from space. You all know the one I mean – with the beautiful greens and blues and all the continents in full view. If I remember correctly the astronaut was overcome by the sight and felt compelled to appeal to everyone back on the planet to take good care of it. An appeal to everyone!
So here’s to the brave people who got into those flimsy flying machines and soared, and here’s to the earthbound brave souls who hoe the rows in front of them. And here’s to keeping our beautiful, fragile Earth around for a few hundred more years?