Space Race

Sputnik

On this day in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  The USA woke up to the fact that the space race had begun, and they were not even at the starting blocks.

With the launch of Sputnik the Russians engineered what was called by Eisenhower “the Sputnik crisis”.  The Russians proved they had rockets capable of launching nuclear warheads and reaching the USA.  The payload of 83 Kilos was initially dismissed by the US scientists as preposterous.  They were planning on launching a sub 10 kilo package and did not have the raw power available to shift  such a large mass into orbit.

With the launch of Sputnik the world changed overnight.  The USA, which thought of itself as the premier power in the world, found itself in second place.

In response Eisenhower commissioned the creation of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA pioneered computer networking and led directly to the creation of the Internet.

At the same time he created NASA to take responsibility for space exploration from the Military arms, which were focused on development of warhead delivery systems.

In the United Kingdom the launch of Sputnik brought into sharp relief that the nation, once the workshop of the world, was now a technological backwater.  Great Britain did not have the capability to enter the space race.

But Outer Space; by Robert Frost (from ‘In the Clearing’ published 1962)

But outer Space,
At least this far,
For all the fuss
Of the populace
Stays more popular
Than populous

 

 

 

Pluto Fly By

Pluto heart

A big day today in astronomical circles as the NASA New Horizons space probe makes its closest pass to the dwarf planet Pluto.  The latest image to capture the imagination of the public is a picture of Pluto with a Heart Shaped coloration.  The latest data also suggests that like Mars, the planetoid Pluto is coloured red.  A veritable love heart in the outer reaches of the solar system.

So I thought the poem below seemed appropriate to mark the day.  Hades was the Greek lord of the underworld, Pluto the Roman equivalent.  Both share the tale of doomed love with the daughter of Demeter,the Goddess of Fertility.  The myth is that Persephone refused all food and drink, which would have allowed her to gain freedom from the underworld.  But she was tempted by a pomegranate and sucked out 90 of the 365 seeds in the fruit (I haven’t gotten around to counting a real fruit yet).   For three months she was bound to remain in Hades.  As a result, every year, we have 90 days when all plants die, and we call it winter.

A Myth of Devotion; by Louise Glück

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he’d introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she’d find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn’t everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn’t everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That’s what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there’d be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn’t imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone’s Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you’re dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.