Thursday, May 19, 2005


Another day, another trip out.

Today, me and wifey went to The US Space & Rocket Center at Huntsville, Alabama. The drive there was interesting in its own right, passing through little outposts of civilisation, beholding all manner of residences; trailer parks, abandoned tar-paper shacks, the odd flock of carports, the country-oriented bumper stickers - "Coon Hunter", the shiny arrangements of lawnmowers and tractors, and beyond it all, the profusion of trees in this lush part of the planet.

On an empty stretch of road, Hannah said, "Here's where I saw a coyote." I looked at the empty stretch of road again.

You can see the top of a Saturn V rocket as you approach the Space Center, you can glimpse a space shuttle (not a genuine one, but a full-scale fiberglass rendition) through the trees. The excitement was palpable. Inside, shifting global realities make themselves felt, you're informed by a crumpled typed notice beside the ticket desk that "due to the events of 9/11 the Marshall Space Center part of the US Space & Rocket Center is no longer open to the public" - this contrasts with the US Army walk-through exhibit that stands to attention at the museum entrance, anxious to demonstrate how being able to Kill People in all manner of environments, using all kinds of exploding devices and delivery methods, is a pretty laudable thing. Inside a cabinet, three military mannekins stand, one in an absurdly seductive futuristic, "Let's Go Out and Kill People Now, with Lasers!" outift. I was sold on it at any rate.

We wandered around, like people at museums do, looking at our map. We started off in the space shop, checking out the space-related goodies they had on offer. These included sew-on patches with various space-insignia on it - I thought these would look great sewn onto my Knight Rider jacket, and Hannah did not come out with the objections of that being the behaviour of a Five Year Old that I had anticipated. I marked them down as purchases for the end of the day. I couldn't fight off the wish to cover my voluminous hair with a cap, so I snagged myself a Space Center baseball cap for 9 bucks, in blue and red, too smart!

We invaded the Food Court next, our hungry bellies singing a song that featured the words "Feed ME!" in pretty much every line. I was worried that they would only serve space-food, you know, powdered chicken broth etc, and you'd be required to eat in zero-gravity. Thankfully, it was simple fast food and we settled down to eat the ubiquitous Burger and Fries at the ubiquitous Circular Table and Uncomfortable Chairs - blissssss.

We toured the exhibits, it was bemusingly amazing stuff, I couldn't get the magnitude of all the sensational sights into my brainbox. We walked past the Saturn V rocket, an immense, 1,000,000 lbs 3-part monster of engineering, that had sent people out there, into space (the new Airbus weighs a similar amount), we saw a replica of the Lunar Module parked in a replica of the Moon's surface - "Here's where it was filmed," I commented, half-expecting my remark to trigger a sensor that would activate a robot voice to say, "That's the 343,235th time someone has made that 'joke', Earthman..." but nothing happened...

Some Buddhist monks were walking around, getting excited and videoing things. I wondered what they were thinking - had they finished their exploration of inner space and were now getting busy with outer space??? Were they here to laugh at the, to their eyes, crude methods of traversing huge distances, while they preferred the more pastoral and economically prudent approach of sitting on a mountain and getting high on nature as a springboard for negotiating the cosmos. Who could say? Nice robes, though.

There was a glass cabinet with Hugo Award winning sci-fi novels on display - there was Brave New World! sitting among all this paraphernalia of American scientific endeavor... and over here, Look! A MIR space station that you can walk into and view the controls, the strange alphabet pulsing over the ancient computer screens, the exercise bike in the ceiling, and the noble "Plant Experiment" - a selection of variously sized carrots behind bulletproof glass.

It was getting late by now, but still the cool stuff kept coming, the EMU, a backpack that allows an astronaut to go for a solo flight in space, the Apollo 16 splashdown module, a rounded pyramidal form, its orignial black scorched by the power of the Sun and the burn on re-entering Earth's atmosphere - there it was, centimetres away behind glass, something that had been to the Moon and back, inspiring.

We returned to the spaceshop and loaded up on T-shirts, patches, mugs, fleeces, etc, and then set off for home.

That evening, in the backyard, I looked up at the half-moon over Sheffield, Alabama, and it did feel different - more magical again.


Blogger Jagan said...

MSN misses you.

It wants to talk about Dosteyovski and John Fante.

I'm interviewing Karl Kennedy from neighbours for my next trick.

This 'Space' place sounds fantastic.

3:24 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

hey! hari! i miss you too, hold those thoughts on Dostoyevski and John Fante! yup, the space place was something else. i'll be back in msn action sooooon enough

7:30 PM  

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