Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk boarded the International Space Station today to begin a six-month stint as a member of its newly expanded crew of six. With him are two Russians, an American, a Belgian and a Japanese. When Julie Payette visits the station aboard Endeavour this summer it'll mark the first time that two Canadians have been together on the station, or in space, at the same time.
For the first time there are three Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station. Once NASA retires its space shuttles next year the Soyuz will be the only way up or down, until Orion starts flying in 2015 or 2016. NASA is due to fire off its first Ares 1-X suborbital test flight this fall, putting the agency at the point it was at in 1961 with Saturn/Apollo. The Europeans are talking about designing a new manned space capsule too, but at this point they're behind the Americans in developing one. It would be based on their Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ferry, which has flown once. Once the space shuttle program is done, the Russians will also be the main cargo supplier to the station, with their unmanned Progress spacecraft. The Japanese are also developing a smaller, less independent cargo hauler to service the station, but as yet don't have the rocket to fly it.
As allergic to ornamentation as mid-20th-century modernist architecture was, it did embrace one art form, the mosaic. Nearly any shopping mall constructed in the 1950s or 1960s had an abstract mosaic wall somewhere, usually near the fountain. Today in nearly every case both mosiac and fountain have been renovated away.
The mosaic in the Tory Science Building at Carleton University has survived perhaps because it is one of the oldest things at Carleton (the university was begun for the benefit of returning WWII servicemen), because it is just so huge, but probably because it stands out as one of the best and best preserved examples of its type.
The mosaic was unveiled in October 1962 after ten months' construction, and was considered such a striking piece of work that it was featured on the cover of the July/August 1963 issue of Canadian Art magazine. It was designed by Gerald Trottier and put together by the Connolly Marble, Mosaic and Tile Company of Toronto. Fittingly most of the artisans were Italian-Canadians. It measures 11 feet high by 168 long, wrapping around a circular lecture hall. The individual bits are made of marble or glass, so the colour has held fast. Only a few tesserae have gone missing. I'd expect the university has a pretty strict Post No Bills policy.
The theme of the piece is "the struggle of man to overcome his environment". In the early Sixties the Earth was considered something of an alien planet. Had the mosaic been designed more recently they would have been obliged to include man spinning the environment over his head and then body slamming it on the ground. The pre-Cycladic human figures must originally have suggested a choir of engineers, but now they seem invested with a kind of hip hop credibility.
It's the fortieth anniversary of Apollo X, the moon landing rehearsal flight. In 1969 the US space program and Charles Schulz's Peanuts were both in their heyday and about equal in cultural sway, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Apollo X command module was named Charlie Brown, and the Lunar Module Snoopy. Apollo X did everything Apollo XI did later in July 1969 except touch down on the moon, but a significant difference is the fate of the two lunar modules. Apollo XI's lunar module is in two pieces on the lunar surface, the descent stage at the Sea of Tranquility landing site, and the ascent stage someplace else, smashed to bits after having been jettisoned prior to the crew's return to earth. In the case of Snoopy, it's the descent module that crashed into the surface. The ascent module was fired away from the command module and now orbits the sun, the last inhabited Apollo spacecraft still flying. The reentry capsule Charlie Brown resides in the Science Museum in London, England.
One of the fears I had about JJ Abrams taking over Star Trek was that it would just become a slaughterhouse, like Lost, Season Two. And guess what?
That's Vulcan on the top, and Romulus below. Blown to shit.
If this were Star Trek as we've come to understand it I'd expect the next film to be about undoing this. But more likely we'll get some Hugo-like character saying, "They're all pretty much dead."
The new Star Trek film, though fun and exciting and all Industrial Light and Magic, does not respect Gene Roddenberry's vision, is not optimistic, is not a break from the Bush years as all the papers seem to believe, and is not that different from those crappy Star Wars prequels. There's mayhem. Some of the characters survive. There's no moral. It has nothing to say about what it means to be human. Or Vulcan for that matter.
It's Lost, with references to Star Trek: Nemesis and Enterprise, Season Three.
[Later: Apparently I am the only person on the planet who dislikes this movie.]