Thursday, July 29, 2004

Syncom 3

Syncom 3 was the first satellite to be launched into geostationary orbit, after Arthur C. Clarke had predicted the use of GEO for telecommunications in a 1945 article for Wireless magazine. I must do some more research about its possible heritage significance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Our German scientists, your German scientists

I went searching for the script of Ice Station Zebra on the web. As you might imagine, you can find the scripts of any amount of rubbish, but Ice Station Zebra is not available. The film had some fantastic lines, including one about German scientists. I fear I shall just have to rent the video again and transcribe it myself. Or perhaps I should find the novel by Alistair McLean.

There is some fascinating literature on Cold War gender politics about. I wasted my money on the new version of the Stepford Wives on the weekend (I don't recommend it) but it did make me want to see the very fine original again. I think it was made in the 1970s? It certainly reflects a Betty Friedan, World War II backlash.

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' .....).

Monday, July 19, 2004

Rocket lineages

Yesterday I watched a short film by space artist Louise K Wilson about the Spadeadam missile test site. I was very struck by the similarities of the physical remains of launch pads to both Peenemunde, where Wernher von Braun developed the V2 rocket, and on the other side to Woomera, where the British descendants of the V2 were launched.

Also, if you've had trouble trying to post a comment, I hope that problem will be remedied soon ....

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky goes to the Moon

Last night I went to a screening of a 1935 Russian Science Fiction film, called 'The Space Race', on which Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was the scientific adviser. This was arranged as part of the International Space University by Kerrie Dougherty of the Powerhouse Museum.

Tsiolkovsky is often called the father of modern rocket science; he published a book in 1903 that suggested interplanetary travel using rockets. His main innovation was the use of liquid instead of solid fuel.

The film contained microgravity sequences, among the earliest to be attempted, and wonderful scenes on the surface of the moon. Little animated figures leap about in slow motion, in a landscape very much more interesting than we know it to be now!

And, get this: the spaceship had automatic doors. Now, I'm not a Trekkie, but I understand from Trekkie friends that automatic doors were an innovation of that series, and it took some time before real life was able to catch up. They had people hidden out of sight to pull and push the doors! This may or may not be true; however, there were automatic doors in this 1935 film .....

And in 1935 the predicted future when men and women went to the moon wasn't 1969, or 1984, or 2001, but 1946! Ambitious, and yet, given the extraordinary achievements of Russian and American space programmes with what seems to us now to be such primitive technology, perhaps it was not entirely unrealistic.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Dr Strangelove and the Space Race

From the script:

Muffley (Merkin Muffley, the US President, played by Peter Sellers):

But this is absolute madness, ambassador. Why should you build such a thing?

DeSadeski (Russian Ambassador):

There are those of us who fought against it, but in the end we could not keep up with the expense involved in the arms race, the space race, and the peace race. And at the same time our people grumbled for more nylons and washing machines. Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we'd been spending on defense in a single year. But the deciding factor was when we learned that your country was working along similar lines, and we were afraid of a doomsday gap.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Australia in the Cold War: the legacy of B.A. Santamaria

B.A. Santamaria was a major force in promoting opposition to communism in Australia. I'm reading a fascinating book by Ross Fitzgerald called The Pope's Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split (University of Queensland Press 2003). It's a real eye-opener and makes sense of the vestiges of sectarian attitudes still evident in Australia. Funnily enough, I was taught violin by one of Santamaria's daughters. She was a fine musician, but was there some political motivation in sending me to her? (My father was a big supporter of Santamaria). The book presents important background to understanding Cold War Australian politics, and it's quite frightening to think of the power held by this man who was not even a member of a political party.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Artefacts on the Moon

Watching a documentary on space artefacts this evening. On the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepherd took a modified golf club with him, and left two golf balls behind on the lunar surface.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

International Space University

Last week I gave a lecture at the International Space University Summer Session Program, being held in Adelaide. It's really the first time I've been part of a completely spacey group, although I met some of the British Interplanetary Society in 2003. I wasn't sure how the students would react to the political aspects of my lecture regarding US cultural hegemony. In fact I edited the lecture in an effort to be more sensitive in this regard! However, I had an interesting discussion with Michael, who works on the Space Shuttle, a couple of days later. He noted that there was an emphasis on the US space programme in other lectures as well, and he found it embarrassing at times.

But so far the International Space University is sensational. Students from 27 countries will learn more about Australian space policy than they ever realised possible! I can't help wondering what the long term effects of having the summer programme (eg Adelaide winter) in Australia will be.