24 November, 2006

One Small Putt For A Man

Yesterday a Russian cosmonaut hit a golf ball off the Soyuz docking platform of the International Space Station as an advertising stunt for a Canadian golf club manufacturer. The stunt went well, it seems, and the ball is expected to do about 48 Earth orbits before finally burning up in the atmosphere.

When I first read that this was going to happen, my reaction was (predictably) one of dismay. That the wonderful and noble quest for humankind to build a new home in space should be so debased and degraded, seemed an awful thing. That the ISS, or, at least, the Russian space programme, should be forced to raise cash by selling its astronaut’s time to advertisers struck me as scandalous and a terrible indictment of our materialist world.

Yet, as often happens, a little reflection gave me a different view. Of course it is an unspeakable crime to waste the time of highly-qualified and highly-trained astronauts in batting balls around to make a few dollars – not to mention that of the NASA engineers on the ground who had to do protracted safety studies – yet isn’t the whole business so wonderfully human? I mean, you spend billions upon billions of dollars, thousands of people dedicate their lives, decades of planning, design, building and execution unfolds, people die for Heaven’s sake! And for what? So that one day some ridiculous company can stage a ridiculous marketing show.

Well, of course. That’s what has to happen. That’s what this is all for. We’re not going into space to change human nature. We’ll still be the same clownish little monkeys Out There as we are down here. Were going into space to be us – only somewhere bigger. And that means whacking golf balls 48 time around the world, and holding zero-G raves, and getting drunk, and having fights, and making love, and keeping pets, and frying the longest sausage in the known universe, and filming episodes of Home and Away on a starship, and on and on and on.

That’s who we are. That’s who we always will be. Painting asteroids in corporate colours in our Destiny. I just hope the rest of the Galaxy is ready for us.

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