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SPACE 1999

by Mo Bhula of John Good Holbrook. JGH 2000

The year is 1999. Just savour that thought for a minute - it really is 1999. No longer just the words of a song, or the title of a dodgy seventies TV series, or even the preferred date of apocalyptic prophets, doom-mongers and eschatologists, but the real thing.


Yet now that the magic date has arrived and the millenium (and it's pet bug) approaches, many of us are beginning to wonder just how much the reality of the world squares up with all those predictions made in the past by films, novels and dodgy seventies TV series. You know the type of thing: futuristic cities under geodesic domes, people dressed in white or shiny costumes with strange make-up, lounge bars on the moon, holidays on Mars... Okay, so the peculiar clothes and strange make-up comes and goes, and London can certainly boast it's own dome, however laughable. But in the field of space exploration, it seems we have been a little backward in living up to the expectations of years past. After the initial forore of the space-race, man on the moon by the end of the decade etc., our enthusiasm for all things celestial seems to have tailed off to the point where the most exciting thing to have been launched into space in recent years is a telescope. Okay, so the Hubble telescope is an astronomer's dream come true, and some of the pictures it has captured have been breathtaking, but a telescope? Patrick Moore's got a pretty good one in his back garden, couldn't we all have gone there for a peek and spent the money on a good spaceship instead?


Visitors views on Space! | Your views on Space!

Thus as we approach the end of three decades of space study and exploration, the most oft-asked questions are still the same:


I have done nothing but in care for you. Of thee and my dear one, my daughter who is ignorant of what I am. Not knowing of whence I came nor that I am more better than Prospero, master of a poor full cell and her no greater father.


HOW BIG IS SPACE?


There is a general consensus that space is, to all intents and purposes, infinite. But how do you rationalize how big "infinite" is? To begin with, our minds are not infinite - they're big, certainly, bigger than the volume of are braincases, and big enough to allow feats of imagination that are astounding, incredible, unbelieveable and, in some cases, suspiciously dodgy - but they are not infinite. So exactly how are we expect to find space in there for something that by definition has no limits, I don't know. In addition we have no measuring tools that can cope with infinity; we can measure the distance to the furthest galaxies, and that tape measure you bought last year might be surprisingly long, but infinity it ain't. You see, the problem with infinity is that however big you think it is, it will always be that little bit bigger. So, how big is space? Well let's say that its big enough to fit within itself, even though it is infinitely big.


Is this a monster I see before me? With tentacles instead of hands! I see it not, and yet I see it still. Art thou not fatal vision sensible to me as to his sight, or art thou but a monster of the mind, a false creation proceding from heat of present brain? Put out the force field, that will hold it back.


WHAT WAS THERE BEFORE TIME BEGAN?


Whilst you're trying to get your mind around that last bit, consider this. If time started at a certain point, what was there before it started? And if there was no time before, how can there have been a "before"? The modern scientific view is that there is no separation between space and time, hence the combined phrase 'space-time'. Space-time started at the point when the universe began, usually referred to (with a snigger) as The Big Bang. Before the (snigger) Big Bang there was no space and no time. Thus the question of what was there before the (snigger) Big Bang and hence time, is superflous, accordding to the scientists, because there was no space in which time could tick away. Despite this elegant explanation (or fobbing off as it is known in some circles), most of us will still ask: "Yes, that's all very well, but what was there before?"


Here they come, here they come, coming up the stairs. Here they come, coming through the floor, here they come. Gloria!


Is There ANYBODY OUT THERE?


In recent years it has become harder to find people who don't claim to have been visited by aliens, or don't know someone who has worked at a top-secret US Government base reverse-engineering captured alien craft. Does this mean that the quest for intelligent life from out there is over? Possibly, although it does seem a little churlish of our visitors to only show themselves to a) credulous eccentrics living the back end of nowhere or b) grim faced government types, dressed in black who are determined to keep their prescence a secret (yeah, between themselves and the rest of the book-buying, magazine-reading, internet-using world).


Most modern descriptions of aliens are of the grey, dome-headed, large-eyed type but opinion is divided as to whether alien cultures would evolve to look like humans. Some scientists feel that if intelligent life tended to develop on earth-type planets only, your basic dual-limbed bipedal triploblastic bilaterally-symmetrical acoelomate (ie, a person) shape would be the best one in each case. Others however point out that life need not have any such limits and look forward to meeting what Douglas Adams called described as "super-intelligent shades of the colour blue". Of course, aliens too would have to solve the problem of travelling impossibly large distances. Any that do, however, are sure to find us if they bump into one of the Voyager probes which are currently speeding away from the solar system, and which contain information on ourselves, our location, knowledge, habits...er, are we sure that they're going to be friendly?


Out damned blob, out I say! Once more up to the bridge my friend, once more - or close the door up with your metal hand.




Music is "GLORIA"


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