Why the International Space Station is so damn cool

Well it’s a space station, obviously – what’s not to like about that?

ISS

Well, to be perfectly honest the technology is a bit of a let down. I was born in 1972, and my grandfather was an academic publisher. He wrote and edited science textbooks, and while his personal expertise was in ceramics he also edited and contributed to a lot of books on futurology and space exploration.

We really should have a moon base by now. I know that because Grandad said so in the 1960s.

That aside yes of course it’s an amazing achievement, but that’s not the point. The point for me is this – there is a British astronaut on the ISS right now, Major Tim Peake, and he went up in a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. Not from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, not from an RAF base somewhere in England, but from Kazakhstan.

Now when I was a kid in the 1980s no one in England knew that Kazakhstan existed – it was all part of that huge red block on the map that we called Russia, for all that it was technically the USSR at the time. That’s beside the point – for all intents and purposes it was Russia and as everyone knew in the early 80s we were at war with Russia.

Well, sort of anyway. Like I said I was born in 1972, so by the early 80s I was just about sort of alive. Alive enough to remember it now, anyway. Everyone was scared of the Russians. If you’re under 30 you probably can’t wrap your head around this but in the 1980s we still honestly thought there might be a nuclear war with Russia tomorrow. Or maybe later on today.

It was fucking scary and it was scary all the time, every day. I don’t think I realised just how scary it was until some well-meaning relative bought me a comic book one Christmas.

That comic book was by Raymond Briggs, who wrote “The Snowman”. You know, “we’re walking in the air” and all that shit, the sweet kid’s cartoon that’s on every Christmas? Yeah, that Raymond Briggs.

Well Raymond Briggs also wrote another comic book called “When The Wind Blows” and that’s the one the well-meaning relative bought me. It’s a magnificent example of storytelling in the graphic novel form but it is categorically Not For Children.

“When The Wind Blows” is about nuclear war, at the most painful, personal, heartbreaking level possible. It’s a superb book but it is Not For Children. But that’s beside the point.

The point is this – I grew up scared of the Russians, and so did pretty much everyone else my age. And now we have an International Space Station, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin. We sent up a British astronaut in a Russian rocket from Kazakhstan, and no one’s nuking anyone.

It’s wonderful.

All the best Major Tim, and Merry Christmas.

 

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