A horse’s arse

It’s 08.57 on the 6th March and we’re just leaving Cologne on the train. It’s only a four hour journey to London via Brussels and the Eurostar. Then another 4 and a half hours to Edinburgh.

It snowed during the night. The tracks run black parallels through the white. The sky is close and heavy and the two spires of the Cathedral are only just beyond the horizon. Those train tracks are approximately the same distance apart as the wheels of a cart to be pulled by a horse. That’s because when engineers in the nineteenth century built the railroads they were using horses and carts. Trains upgraded the horse-and-cart technology that had existed since before history began. Phaëton for example was the son of the Sun God and as a test of his father’s love he demanded to drive the Sun Chariot through the sky, nearly causing apocalypse because he couldn’t control the reins. Each module on the International Space Station is 5 metres in diameter because that is the size that can be carried on a train through the tunnels of Europe and North America, which were built for tracks that were the same as a cart’s made to fit a horse’s arse.

Visiting the European Astronaut Centre this week has been awe inspiring, even dizzying. It made me realize that I have mostly thought of Space as an imaginary space: so far away, so beyond my body that like abstract thought or myth, it is fascinating, but intangible. I realized through this visit how living in space and in the future even traveling deep into it, is a material experience, not just an idea or story that helps explain who we are on Earth.

From the train the landscape moves too quickly to describe. The land is flat here and the white plains are difficult to scale. I just saw a surprisingly small figure with a dog, crossing a large field. She was half the size I would have thought. The giant metal wind turbines revolve above her.

In space on the ISS this year the Italian built observatory, the Cupola, was installed because the astronauts complained that they couldn’t see the view well enough. As Chris elicited from Gail, this wasn’t just a case of feeling closed in. The knowledge that the best view in human history was just beyond the periphery of their too small port holes meant that they really needed (not just wanted) bigger and better windows in order to live and work there. They needed a more satisfying scope: existing windows are nearly always facing down to avoid meteoroids.

Finally… there are too many ways to record here how visiting the European Astronaut Centre has inspired us/me … hopefully the play Mission to Mars will record it best… there might be more than one play in this material. So much thanks to Dr. Gail Iles who invited us and gave us such a great experience while we were there, an inspiring woman, and thanks also to all her colleagues who are doing amazing things…literally grasping what is ‘out of this world’.

Clare x

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