SPACE. IT’S A FUNNY THING.

GQ (Australia) - - THE INDEPENDENT BROTHER -

Kubrick knew that. Be­cause if you start a story with apes, how can it not be funny? Then again, doesn’t ev­ery­thing that’s about hu­mans start with apes? Here’s the funny thing about space: ask peo­ple what they think about it and you’ll get ev­ery kind of an­swer. We should colonise Mars. We should stay home. We should look for life. Space, re­ally, is a gi­ant Rorschach. Into it we send rock­ets and satel­lites and space sta­tions. But more than that, we send be­liefs. About what is mean­ing­ful. About what is pos­si­ble. About what is in­escapable. Look, I’m no space nut. More of a space op­ti­mist – I be­lieve in the mis­sion. The night Neil Arm­strong walked off the lu­nar mod­ule and onto the moon, I was there, next to my mother. She kept my seven-year-old brother and me from falling asleep, jostling us ev­ery few min­utes as we sat on ei­ther side of her on the liv­ing room sofa, so we could wit­ness history. The night Sky­lab fell from the sky, I sat in the park­ing lot of the gro­cery store next to our house, sure that I would catch a piece of it. Bruce Mc­can­d­less mak­ing that first un­teth­ered space­walk in 1984? I watched with shiv­ers of dread and awe – stunned by the im­age of him float­ing, seem­ingly adrift. And then there was the win­ter morn­ing I walked into my col­lege cafe­te­ria to punch in for my shift as a dish­washer when Doc, one of the cooks, walked by hold­ing his tran­sis­tor ra­dio to his ear and telling us the Chal­lenger had ex­ploded. When Columbia broke up over Texas, it was early on a Satur­day morn­ing, and I heard the news as I was driv­ing through empty back roads in New Jersey. If you ask me what I think about space, I say this: I’ve al­ways be­lieved there is, some­where in our core, a need to push for­ward. To ex­plore what is over the next hori­zon. We’re cu­ri­ous. We’re knowl­edge-seek­ers. We’re tool-mak­ers. We’re prob­lem-solvers. Get off the beach or die. Get off this rock or die. That’s what I project into the void. But some­where along the way – maybe when NASA dis­con­tin­ued the Space Shut­tle – I, like a lot of peo­ple, lost the sense of what for­ward means. ( For­ward to where? For­ward to what?) My whole life I had gazed up, trac­ing the bal­lis­tic tra­jec­tory of the US space pro­gram, and sud­denly that tra­jec­tory showed me only the vast empti­ness of… space. Now, space is back. Musk, Bran­son, Be­zos. Each pur­su­ing a pet project: build re­us­able rock­ets and ul­ti­mately colonise Mars; send ul­tra-rich tourists on the world’s most ex­pen­sive roller coaster; mine as­ter­oids. NASA, mean­while, keeps plug­ging away at its sci­ence and ro­bots. It’s hard to know how se­ri­ously to take any of it – there’s no fo­cus. Yet the pace of space news con­tin­ues to ac­cel­er­ate like a hail­storm on a roof. There are new im­ages of Pluto. Signs of wa­ter on Mars. Vi­ral videos of rock­ets blown to smithereens as they at­tempt lu­di­crous ver­ti­cal land­ings. Then… vi­ral videos of rock­ets ex­e­cut­ing those same lu­di­crous ver­ti­cal land­ings suc­cess­fully. A few months ago, be­tween gigs and long­ing to clear my head, I took a road trip and ended up at the Very Large Ar­ray (VLA), the ra­dio as­tron­omy ob­ser­va­tory in New Mex­ico. You’ve seen it – a gi­ant field of 27 white ra­dio tele­scopes, mounted on rail­road tracks, all turned to­ward the sky. It got me think­ing about space again. And I re­alised: I don’t know how peo­ple dream about space any­more. What they be­lieve about it. What I be­lieve about it. And an im­age popped into my head. A slick com­puter ren­der­ing of a sci-fi-look­ing build­ing in the desert – roughly the shape of a manta ray – blue lights ar­rayed in a half­moon around it. Space­port Amer­ica. What­ever hap­pened to Space­port Amer­ica? You re­mem­ber Space­port, right? Just over 10 years ago, New Mex­ico per­suaded Richard Bran­son, who was then boast­ing of plans to start reg­u­lar flights into outer space on Vir­gin Galac­tic space planes, to base his com­pany in a de­serted patch of the Jor­nada del Muerto (Span­ish for Day of the Dead) desert, 50 kilo­me­tres out­side the town of Truth or

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