Earlier this year I wrote about my favourite film, 'Armageddon'. If you scroll back through the archive of my posts 'Patch' is easy to find. Now might be a good time to scroll; I think it is about time I explained why that ragged, singed, bit of cloth - the patch - means so much to me. And why I cried at the end of the film.
Vanishingly-small numbers of people have ventured into space, more have helped make their passage safe by testing, retesting, and doing it over and over again so the chance of failure is reduced.
One thing to remember though, the ability to send stuff off our planet isn't easy. In fact, though essentially we're still relying on explosives developed from Chinese firecrackers, to propel the aforementioned stuff out there is extraordinarily difficult!
Let's face facts; whether or not you believe the somewhat facetious comment made about a typical US spacecraft - amongst the most complex mechanical devices ever assembled and machines in which generations of astronauts have trusted their very lives - is built by the lowest bidder, the word 'difficult' doesn't even come close to how, er… difficult, remote, intransigent, space is.
Unless one sits and thinks about the unforgiving nature of the vacuum, cold, radiation, and sheer unpredictability of space, it's all a bit esoteric, remote, almost-science-fictionish isn't it. White-coared experts and gung-ho spacemen, right?
The thing is, I've been very lucky to travel to the USA, to both the Houston Space Center* and The New Mexico Museum of Space History. The Houston site is awesome, but an exhibit at the NM museum - one past which most will walk without paying much heed - grabbed my attention immediately. Mission patches.
I don't have a thing for patches, no.
One in particular stood out. Or didn't. The Challenger patch, there symbolising a small part from the rich history of human endeavour, but nevertheless an extraordinarily poignant moment within it. Failure doesn't come easily to those in space programmes the world over, and especially not from an overlooked, almost-insignificant part of a much larger whole. The tragedy of loss of life is deeply felt, especially when the hopes of mankind rest on the success of the many facets of space exploration and utilisation.
Now, the bottom line here is this: without the constant evolution** of the spacecraft, the dedication of those designing the hardware and systems, and those preserving the history of the… Ok, ok, there's something both symbolic and very real about the struggle to not kill people in space.
A typical space programme is at the pinnacle of human achievement. It's the culmination of hundreds of years of experimentation and research, layers of improvement built on top of each other and of records faithfully retained against the day someone should attempt the actually-impossible.
Remembering what others have tried though should be no bar to trying to make a better space widget. As the saying goes, the impossible sometimes takes a little longer.
You might have expected at this point that I'd inject something political here, referring to 2016's apparent forgetfulness in the area of human evolution… Yeah, down the snake towards the worst excesses of human against human we go. And to think I cry at mere films.