Tuesday 24 December 2013


I can't remember who first said that we should really be sending poets into space to report back - but I expect even a poet would find it hard to avoid crassness. Auden, of course, saw things clearly when hr wrote of the 1969 moon landing:

It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
    it would not have occurred to women
    to think worth while, made possible only

because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
    hurrah the deed, although the motives
    that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

It's not just the Boys now, as Commander Suni Williams confirms. Join her as she takes us on a short tour of the International Space Station, one of many short films on the NASA website which I've been watching with my jaw on the floor and eyes popping. Who knew?

Perhaps it's churlish to complain that this intelligent and courageous woman has adopted a teenager's lexicon - everything she shows us is  described as "cool" or "awesome" or "neat" and her general demeanour is conscientiously unserious (doubtless what NASA publicists wanted). The ISS really is the most amazing thing, and operational since 1998. What are they doing up there? "Cool experiments" is all we're told. 

The environment is unsettling - part Stanley Kubrick and part Josef Fritzl. Remember him, the single-minded Austrian family man? There's something of the padded cell also, and I can't say I'd be a useful  member of the ISS crew, being in a state of constant panic and averse to the gymnasium. Yes, they have a gymnasium. There's also a bicycle. See for yourself . . .

You'll know this because, if you're like me, you've already watched Commander Williams's other reports, jaw on the ground, eyes popping.

Moon Landing (extract) © The Estate of W. H. Auden

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