All entries for Tuesday 28 August 2007
August 28, 2007
I've been in Southampton since last Monday to clear out my room here, and things are going quite well. I finally purchased a rather nice sofa from DFS (the Vetta sofa, three seater, no reclining action) in a warmer shade of beige than pictured, and provided the credit check goes through ok (always a worry for new graduates...) I should get it interest free for three years, too, with nothing to pay until this time next year. Bargain.
In the meantime, I've been looking at rugs (to go under my coffee table), bean bags (to sit on for the next two to three months whilst I wait for my sofa to be delivered) and cushions (to go on my sofa and match my rug). I've done quite well, and I am still haemorrhaging money. Oh well, the sofa's on credit. I hope.
Clearing out my room has been a good experience; I have a lot of junk that is just going, thank god, but there's still some stuff that's coming with me to Cambridge - CDs, books, Mum's old food processor...
Which, of course, is the other benefit of having come home. My parents seem to like spending money on me (they obviously haven't yet kicked the habit of "looking after me" whilst I was a student), which is nice and always appreciated, and so I've ended up with a set of rather nice chopping boards, a set of rather nice Kitchen Devils knives (complete with storage block), a knife sharpener and a potato peeler. And my Mum's old food processor.
I also went through my tax return with Dad, and I have implemented a new filing system. The anal, organised part of my brain is happy.
I'm off back to Cambridge on Thursday with all my stuff, so I'm sort of killing time now, binning junk, blogging and doing the times2 puzzles. 9 across, "Betrayal of one's country (7)": "traitor". Erm... no. That's someone who betrays their country; treachery is the act of betraying one's country. But that's 9 letters. Flipping tabloid. I might actually be able to finish this one, if the rubbish clues don't hinder me too much.
Catch you later, alligator.
Andrew Smith is a columnist for the Guardian. Born in the US, he is lucky enough to remember that great day in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. For that alone, I am insanely jealous. I put the question to my parents: "Did you watch the moon landings? What were they like?" and was surprised to find that I got a mixed response (although perhaps I should not have been; this is a good example of the usual juxtaposition of opinions that I've come to expect from them). My Dad claims to have been riveted by them, glued to the TV (as I would have been), whilst my Mum's response was "Probably". Surely, I said, it was an achievement so monumental that you must have been inspired by it. Mum's response was, "I seem to remember it being old hat by the time they actually landed on the moon, as there were launches seemingly nearly every week. I found John Glenn's accomplishment more exciting". John Glenn was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth1; slightly disillusioned by my Mum's indifference, I never quite found out why this was more of an achievement than Gagarin's first flight into space (he was the first person ever to orbit the Earth).
But back to the book. Moondust is as moving as its premise: that a handful of men (twelve, to be exact), in a crazily optimistic period between 1969 and 1972, were able to fly to and walk on the moon, the very edge of Deep Space. The journeys these men made were to change them forever: the divorce rate amongst astronauts is "astronomical"; Buzz Aldrin lapsed into alcoholism and was later treated at a psychiatric institution; Neil Armstrong retreated from all public life; Ed Mitchell, of Apollo 14 and sixth man on the moon, reported experiencing an epiphany on the way back from the moon that led him to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), set up to reconcile the differences between science and religion, that has been a lure for hippies and new-age thinkers since its inception.
The prologue tells the story of Smith's first personal encounter with one of the Apollo men: the tenth man on the moon, Charlie Duke. During the meeting, Duke received a telephone call informing him that Pete Conrad, of Apollo 12, had been in a motorcycle accident; later he was confirmed to have died from the injuries sustained in the accident.
It was the words Duke left me with that set my mind reeling that day. He said them quietly and evenly, as though uttering a psalm.
"Now there's only nine of us."
Correspondingly, Smith divides his book into nine chapters; however, he does not, as one might immediately think, devote one chapter to each of the remaining astronauts. His journey leads him to meet with not only the remaining moonwalkers, but also the men who could not go "the last sixty miles" to the moon, the Command Module (CM) pilots, such as Mike Collins (Apollo 11) and Dick Gordon (Apollo 12).
Smith's book combines personal memory, descriptions of the Apollo missions, inner thoughts and recent interviews with the Apollo astronauts to great effect. His accounts of the Apollo 11 take-off and the Gemini 11 Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA, or "space walk" to you and me) are heart-stopping and real. His interviews with the astronauts and encounters with other "space nuts" really give you a feel for the characters behind the greatest achievement of mankind. Alan Bean's (Apollo 12) artwork sounds gorgeous to behold, as he forever tries to capture the "human" part of walking on the moon that he regrets never being explored — too much emphasis was always placed on the scientific, and no time to just experience the moon.
An undercurrent throughout the book is a sense of urgency to get back, and how we cannot let the Moon landings pass into legend. Too many people already hold that they never happened, and too many people are alive now (myself included) who don't remember the Moon landings because they weren't alive at the time. The last optimistic act of the 20th Century is also mankind's greatest achievement, and we should be looking to top it (by getting men on Mars) or equalling it regularly. NASA's focus has shifted with the large budget cuts it has faced since 1972 and the need to replace the Space Shuttle, and so we haven't got out of low-Earth orbit in the last 35 years. This is a great shame, and should be addressed.
Smith's book cannot come more highly recommended. It will get you thinking about philosophy, the wonder of being a member of the only race on Earth to escape the atmosphere, and just how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Not in a bad way, but in a way that really makes you feel so incredibly lucky to be alive. What's more,you'll never be able to look at a photo from/on the Moon without thinking, "Wow. That's the Moon!", and a similar, but slightly magnified feeling now erupts inside me as I look at photos from Mars. Read it.
1. John Glenn. (2007, August 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:02, August 23, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Glenn&oldid=151750796