Or simulated space, anyway. 😉 And for a Whovian who is also a dedicated space geek, this is like the Reeces Peanut Butter Cup of geekery.
Paul McGann and Colin Baker were in Houston, Texas for a sci-fi convention, and got invited along with some of the other guests to get an exclusive VIP tour of Johnson Space Center. Here they are in the actual ISS simulator used to train astronauts. Those blue handrails are used as both handrails and footrails in space; “up” is arbitrary in space, and you have to hook your foot on something if don’t want to drift off while you’re working on something.
Their tour guide was Michael Fincke, currently the American record-holder for cumulative spaceflight hours at 381 days (and also first in place for non-Russians; I’m not sure who’s right above him in the global stats, but the top ten places are all held by Russians, and #10 is Yuri Malenchenko with 514 days; the #1 slot goes to Sergei Krikalev, at 803 days, so the Russian record holders don’t have much to worry about at this point). They had a great time seeing amazing things, and Colin Baker wrote about how impressed he was with Fincke’s self-deprecating charm.
Baker was also reassured that though the American and Russian governments have been doing a lot of aggressive posturing over Crimea, the men and women working on the International Space Station are cooperating 100%, as always, focused on a goal that is larger than any one nation. And if you look back on the history of international human spaceflight collaboration, that’s how it’s been right back to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, nearly 39 years ago.
“Apparently looking down at our big (but small) planet from space focuses the mind and serves to demonstrate the unimportance of borders.” — Colin Baker
He’s right. Many astronauts have talked about it; you go up there, and the borders not only are invisible, they are meaningless. And the further you go, the more trivial our perceived differences become. No, not just perceived; for the most part, the differences we kill one another over are *manufactured*. And if you go out there, you can’t see any of the differences. You only see our tiny world, enveloped in a thin, evanescent layer of air, above which there is only vacuum and the blackness of endless space.
Michael Collins, Apollo 11 CM pilot, talked of photographing the returning Eagle ascent module, then noticing the Earth rising behind it. Suddenly, for the first time, all but one of the humans that had ever lived was in a single frame, and that one human excluded was himself. (“The photographer was discreetly out of frame.”) On the same mission, Buzz Aldrin had looked up at the Earth in the sky, lifted his gloved hand, and noticed that his thumb could cover the entire planet. All the human race. Everything we have ever been. Eclipsed by a thumb. Our world is so small, when you see it in that context. Of course, the ultimate expression of that came from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, inspired by the sight of Earth at a distance of four billion miles, far beyond even Pluto, where Earth is barely visible.
Someday, we may go to Mars. Someday we might even possibly imagine living on another world, but for now, this is our world, and the only place we can survive as a species, and not merely as an artificially sustained oddity. Perhaps it’s time we started taking care of it, so that our species can continue into perpetuity, rather than fading away like so many before it.