June 18


Because the linked site is live (at the time of writing this), and therefore constantly changing, I have placed a screenshot of one key moment below, and leave you to follow up for yourself if you are as excited as I am by this extraordinary expedition. Click here for the European Space Agency website.

And no, you are right, Tim Peake was by no means the first human to travel in space, not even the first Brit (that was Helen Sharman, the first woman to visit the Mir space station, in 1991), but somehow the length of this expedition (six full months with no gravity, though lots of levity), and the sheer number of important tasks it undertook, and the effervescent personality of Tim Peake himself, and the fact, for a serial-blogger like me at least, that this is definitely the first ever space-expedition to have its own daily blog, have all combined to make this an inexorable entry for June 18th in this Book of Days.

Among the achievements, I discount his being the first Brit to undertake a spacewalk, because then we will end up with the fatuousness of cricket and baseball statistics (the first man ever to do a spacewalk wearing a green shirt on a Thursday in June et cetera), though I cannot resist, and watched a part of it on the television, the sheer absurdity of his participation in the London Marathon, on a treadmill, in zero gravity (he wore a special harness to simulate gravity), and in just three hours, 35 minutes and 21 seconds, which is frankly ridiculous back on Earth (I did the same marathon, in stages, at my gym, averaging about fifteen hundred paces a day, and it took me almost as long as he spent in space).

This, of course, was just a frivolous publicity stunt on one of his rare days off. The remaining time was spent trying to justify the galactic size of the cost of these expeditions into the black hole of Heaven. It included a number of scientific experiments which are only achievable in zero gravity, such as the impact of extreme radiation and vacuums on various organisms, and the physical and psychological impact of extreme isolation on humans; the former could obviously be simulated back on Earth, and the latter is, though California's Supreme Court has now declared it a breach of human rights in their prison system, and Turkey, Iran, Zimbabwe and Egypt, among others, are being encouraged to follow suit.

Principia.org's website provides links to some of the other key experiments, but you will have to surf these yourself if you want to understand them, because frankly science and ancient Greek are the same language to me.

EML: Thermolab and NEQUISOL
EXPOSE-R2: Life in space? Life on Mars?
Measuring Brain Pressure in Space
METERON – human-robotic planetary exploration

All this is the future. I was amused, in the midst of all this remarkable technology, to witness the primitive method of landing Major Peake's spacecraft back on Earth, an absurdity so absurd it made me think of a very different Peake, one Mervyn, some of whose nonsense poems, set to music by Richard Rodney Bennett, I spent the evening listening to in a church in Mill Hill. The last time I saw an object falling out of the skies in this manner, it was November 1973, and I was on the hillside of Korazim in Galilee, in a romantic tryst with a young lady, and what came falling from the skies was her cousin, an Israeli fighter pilot who had just had a rather too close encounter with a surface-to-air missile (you can read the full details in the poem "The Abelone Shell" by buying a copy of my Collected Poems "Welcome To My World"). Surely NASA can invent a better way of doing it than this?

Amber pages:

1898, M.C. Escher born - and perhaps it needs a mathematically artistic mind like Escher's to conceive the viable improvement to the spacecraft-landing system: are those impossible reversals that he creates perhaps the answer?

1815, Battle of Waterloo - the moment when a man who was an obnoxious, monomaniacal, megalomaniacal, arrogant, ultra right wing bigot became transformed into the national hero that he is still seen as to this day; and only because he was responsible for defeating another even more obnoxious etc etc... the Duke of Wellington, I mean, and then Napoleon

1979, SALT II agreement signed - has Donald Trump pulled out of this yet? 

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