Posts Tagged ‘space’
May 19, 2015 | by Margaret Lazarus Dean
How America imagines its astronauts.
One of the things that makes the job title astronaut different from other jobs is that it existed in the collective imagination for centuries before it was ever actually anyone’s occupation. In the second century CE, Lucian of Samosata imagined travelers going to the moon and fighting a war with its inhabitants. In Jules Verne’s immensely influential 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon, the word astronaut is never used, but three men seal themselves into a metal capsule in order to fly to the moon. Many of the details Verne came up with were so outlandish as to invite ridicule if they had not become reality a hundred years later in the Apollo program, including a launch from Florida and a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Verne’s three space travelers behave in some ways we now associate with astronauts—they solve problems that arise on their mission, analyze new information they observe outside their windows, and do calculations to figure out their location and speed. On the other hand, they indulge in nonastronaut-like behaviors such as getting drunk, becoming histrionic about unexpected problems, and expressing doubt about the meaning of their journey, about whether they should be doing this at all.
One of the first uses of the word astronaut to refer to a human traveling in space was in Neil R. Jones’s short story “The Death’s Head Meteor,” in 1930.
The young astronaut entered the space flyer, closed the door, and was alone in the air-tight compartment just large enough to accommodate him. On the instrument board before him were dials, levers, gauges, buttons and queer apparatus which controlled and operated the various features of the craft. He turned on his oxygen supply and his air rejuvenator so that the air could be used more than once, after which he shoved his starting lever forward. The craft raced suddenly off the roof and into the cloudless sky above the vast city of the twenty-sixth century.
Jones was probably as surprised as anyone to learn how soon his new word became an actual job title, only twenty-nine years later. In between, during World War II, the first actual rockets emerged. This was the beginning of a new era in which the astronaut became a consistent character to tell stories about, if still speculative. Though the rockets weren’t ready to safely contain humans, their streamlined hulls brought with them a clearer image of the astronaut fantasy. Part fighter pilot, part frontiersman, the helmeted spaceman climbed into sleek machines and left Earth in the black-and-white television shows of the fifties. In 1954, Walt Disney created Man in Space, a series intended to promote his new Disneyland, which was set to open the following year. In the opening shot of the series, Walt himself speaks into the camera. “One of man’s oldest dreams has been the desire for space travel,” he tells us with an avuncular twinkle. “Until recently this seemed to be an impossibility.” Read More »
June 26, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
You will be relieved to learn that Arthur C. Clarke’s DNA is going where no man has gone before. Prior to his 2008 death, the science fiction legend graciously donated several strands of hair to NASA’s “first ever solar sail mission into deep space.” The craft, named Sunjammer, after a 1964 Clarke story, will launch in 2014, with hair aboard.
September 17, 2010 | by The Paris Review
What we’ve been reading.
The Cross of Redemption, James Baldwin’s uncollected prose. So absorbing I woke up thinking about it this morning, showered and shaved, and stepped back into the shower. (“You’re wet. You showered,” was my first non-Baldwin thought of the day.) —Lorin Stein
“The First Tycoon of Teen,” Tom Wolfe’s 1964 profile of pop wunderkind Phil Spector—“the first millionaire businessman to rise up out of the teen-age netherworld.” At 23, Spector had already produced “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “He’s a Rebel,” “Be My Baby,” “Da Do Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Uptown,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.” “I get a little angry when people say it's bad music,” Spector tells Wolfe. “It has limited chord changes, and people are always saying the words are banal and why doesn't anybody write lyrics like Cole Porter anymore, but we don’t have presidents like Lincoln anymore either.” —David Wallace-Wells
A recent poem from The New Yorker called, “On the Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age.” It goes: “O Sting, where is thy death?” —Daisy Atterbury
In the midst of a renewed discussion about female writers and their relationship with the literary establishment, This Recording re-published a piece written by Margaret Atwood in 1976 entitled “On Being A 'Woman Writer.’” Atwood is clear, calm, thorough and undeniably relevant: it wasn't until I got to the bottom of the essay that I realized the piece was over thirty years old. —Miranda Popkey
Elif Batuman’s astounding “Get A Real Degree” in the London Review of Books, which begins as an focused inquiry into the MFA program microculture but expands outward and outward and outward again, until the entire horizon of post-Quixote literature has been pulled into view. —D. W.-W.
I recently watched The Red Stuff, a documentary about the Soviet Union’s race to space. It’s bizarre to see Russian astronauts, especially those now past their prime and overweight, surrounded by Russian space memorabilia. But what I wanna know? Space ice cream. Do the Russians now sell it at their science museums like we do? Also recently viewed: IMAX: Hubble 3D, about the last flight to the Hubble Space Telescope. The images of earth are so beautiful that I cried. —Thessaly La Force
A mesmerizing essay in The Nation on Javier Marías and his Your Face Tomorrow trilogy by the man I'm beginning to think is the best critic writing today, William Deresiewicz. “Marías’s Europeanness is of the autumnal variety, much in evidence in recent decades, the product of a ripened civilization that feels itself equipped for nothing but the harvest," Deresiewicz writes. “Reflection in James or Proust,” he continues, “isn't a commentary on the story; it is essential to the story. It hugs the plot like a lining of a coat. It exposes character, develops relationships, shapes action. It gives utterance to feeling and direction to choice. It evolves, as the protagonists themselves evolve. But reflection in Your Face Tomorrow rarely does any of those things; it simply sits alone in its study, watching the plot go by.” —D. W.-W.