Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stuffed toys in space!

The internet can take you into some weird and wonderful places.

There you are, idly browsing through your Twitter feed (there's not much else to do on a wet Tuesday evening at Dixon Towers) when there's a message from NASA.

Not, unfortunately, a personal invitation to ride a Saturn V to the moon – although that would be rather fun – but a general announcement that the launch of the next Soyuz capsule will be live online in about five minutes time.

Well, it's got to be better than watching another of our 37 pre-recorded episodes of Time Team. There's only so many postholes a chap can stand, even on this aforementioned wet Tuesday.

So let's crank up the broadband, shove another log on the wifi router and stand by for blast-off.

Oh dear. Oh deary deary deary dear. What a terrible shock.

Into space on Soyuz TMA-09M (Picture: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
In the good old days, astronauts had The Right Stuff. Those of us wrinkly enough to remember the original moon landings still cherish an idealised picture of square-jawed American heroes, blasting into the unknown on a flaming trail of glory.

But the live camera inside Soyuz TMA-09M tells a different story. Because dangling from the roof on elastic strings are not one, but two, stuffed cuddly toys.

One of them might be a lion. The other, according to that reliable source "a quick search on Google", was a present to commander Fyodor Yurchikhin when he was a boy, and is a dog. Or maybe a hippopotamus. Google isn't quite sure on that one.

The animals don't appear to enjoy the flight. At first stage separation they jiggle up and down like thrill-seekers at some cosmic funfair. At second stage they lurch drunkenly around the cabin, bashing the crew on the head. At third stage they disappear into a hole in the roof.

Also on board is a tank of guppy-like fishes, science for the advancement of. But we don't see them. Perhaps they're camera-shy.

Six hours later, the capsule docks with the International Space Station, where stuffed toys, crew and guppies disembark safely.

Meanwhile, though, here on earth, childhood illusions lie in tatters.

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