Monday, July 26, 2004

Ice Station Zebra

It's SO Cold War. I hadn't seen this film for years and I'd forgotten how dramatic it is - Ernest Borgnine as the Russian double agent, Patrick McGoohan as the cool, cool British spy, Rock Hudson as the hunky all-American submarine captain. There's sabotage, confrontation, and a million Cold War metaphors out on the ice bergs. The film opens with a satellite initiating a burn to bring it into the atmosphere, where it falls with its precious cargo of high-resolution film showing both US and USSR military installations. (I won't spoil the end if you feel inclined to go out and get it).

The North Pole is a good place to develop Cold War metaphors, of course, but it made me think of other things too. The International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, when the superpowers engaged in a race to be first in orbit, was a follow-up to the International Polar Year. I can't remember the exact date but it was 1920s or 1880s. So it's quite likely that the eponymous Ice Station Zebra, a British polar weather station, was established as part of that international cooperative research effort.

When Sputnik 1 was launched, by necessity it overpassed foreign airspace - or post-atmosphere space - I'm sure there's a correct legal term - and established by fiat a convention whereby orbits are not held to violate international conventions on sovereignty. Aeroplane intrusions in foreign airspace were a matter of conflict long after satellites on both sides were performing surveillance with immunity.

Ice Station Zebra rocks! (And you gotta love an opportunity to use the word "eponymous" .....).


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