“I wish I was a Spaceman”
Separating Anderson science fact from science fiction
Sadly one of the pitfalls of being a Gerry Anderson science fiction fan is the point at which reality starts to catch up with your favourite shows. You know, like when September 1999 arrived and you were left thinking “Where’s my Moonbase?”
Interestingly though, looking through the various science and tech blogs I am subscribed to, there are many exciting technological milestones that are just peaking over the horizon; Milestones that some of us might find familiar having seen them before in shows like Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet.
Since September 13th 1999 has been and gone, and we’re still on earth, and the moon hasn’t been blasted out of orbit; let’s take a look at the next nearest Anderson location – Mars.
The Martian Problem
NASA has set a goal to land humans on Mars by the 2030s. That may seem agonisingly distant right now, but at least it will be 30 years before our favourite band of incompetent astronauts – the Zero X crew – turn up and blow up whatever they can find.
While the Century 21 team’s depictions of Mars may not have been entirely accurate with the lava slinging rock snakes, the malevolent omnipotent computers/non corporeal organisms (that’s a debate for another day), or even the grey moon-like landscape, they did pull off their mission to represent the red planet.
The Martian Excursion Vehicle encounters a previous explorer of Mars. A half buried Curiosity.
Getting to Mars
Zero X – used in Thunderbirds Are Go and Captain Scarlet – is a “space plane”. It uses the same principle as Virgin’s “Spaceship” craft. It’s built in stages, with a dedicated transfer stage that will provide all the necessary thrust and fuel for the journey, and a lander stage. In that respect it’s quite like the Apollo mission (except this one is an all in one rover as well, with a cannon (admittedly, considering how Zero X’s two screen adventures went, they probably should have left the cannon at home)).
Those who can’t wait 15 years to see men on Mars will be pleased to know there is another rover mission planed in 2020 – so at least another robot will make it there.
Landing on Asteroids
Leaving Mars, let’s head for an asteroid. Remember the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission earlier this year? Technology has progressed to such a level that Philae, the lander module, was able to land on an asteroid. While watching this impressive achievement, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the sequence from the Captain Scarlet episode “Shadow of Fear” when Spectrum land a probe on Mars’ tiny moon “Phobos”.
Admittedly, while Comet 67P is less than a 6th of the size of Phobos, I imagine there would be many similar problems given the extremely low gravity exerted by the little moon.
NASA is planning a redirect mission and a manned mission in the future. Possibly coinciding with the time that Gemini Force One’s Jason Trudy makes his historic steps on asteroid 1036 Ganymed as part of the Gemini mission.
What about the Sun Probe?
Finally, there are two missions to the sun planned in the very near future;
The ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter and NASA’s Solar Probe Plus. Both will orbit the sun. Solar Probe Plus in particular will get close enough to sample the near sun environment!
Admittedly, not quite as ambitious as “Sunprobe”, (the much more obvious, and much cooler name… why didn’t they go with that?!). This was the Thunderbirds story about man’s attempt to send a rocket to capture a piece of the sun’s atmosphere, and return to Earth, which almost went horribly wrong because they didn’t speak to any radiation experts while designing the thing.
“Solar Probe Plus” does seem to be the closest we are going to get for some considerable time until we design a vehicle capable of diving into our suns Chromosphere.
These are just three examples of how Anderson stories are nearly coming to life. Needless to say there are a lot more to come by the 2060s, so maybe – just maybe – we’ll have a cloudbase, and a secret island-based international rescue team, but hopefully not an interplanetary war with the Mysterons!
What other Gerry Anderson pieces of technology have come true, or are in development? Let us know the ones we missed in the comments.
Hopefully though, this is a nice reminder that space travel isn’t progressing as slowly as people think.
Special thanks to: Helen Davidge and Andrew, Scientific advisory and additional contributions.