Here in the final section of our Uncharted Constellations anthology, we discover an insistent unease, and sometimes downright cynicism, about the mission ‘to boldly go’ into the universe beyond. The psychology and politics of space colonisation are teased out in these fictive pieces. The arrogance. The price paid. The risks when technology, or humans, break down. With wit, weirdness and some goosebumps, our writers plunge deep into space - where no-one hears you scream. Or DO they?
If we are to colonise the Moon in the 21st century and send crewed voyages to Mars, we need to know this venture is for ALL of us. It’s the human story, or it’s not worth telling. Any successful long-term mission will have to draw upon the skills of a multi-cultural and gendered crew, in order to deal with the challenges, psychological, social and technical, of deep space exploration. Our 'Uncharted Constellations' anthology writers approached this theme by celebrating space history’s ‘Hidden Figures’, as well as crafting science-fiction that imagines that bold future for all of us.
The scientists and storytellers, who paved the way for the 1969 lunar landing, always saw that feat as a stepping-stone to the wider cosmos. Yet for their political masters, the decade’s dash to the moon was the end-point of this Cold War race. It has taken another 50 years to make Lunar and Martian colonies a serious possibility with NASA's Artemis mission and Elon Musk’s planned crewed mission to Mars, both in 2024. What does this mean for our identity as a species? Are we all citizens of the world now, or of the universe?
Were the astronauts of the 1960s human pioneers or Cold War warriors? Undoubtedly the prevailing narrative has been one of stoical men strapped into tin boxes and flung into an adventure whose dangers and discomforts most of us could barely imagine. A glamour clung to the Apollo astronauts, who were mythologised before they even flew. Icarus-like, they lived hard and dabbled with mortality. The mythology of the Apollo era is teased apart in the first section of our 'Uncharted Constellations' anthology, titled Moon Warriors.
Five days after George Floyd died under a policeman’s knee, the sleek Crew Dragon rocket soared into Florida’s skies. Americans were invited to ‘stop everything’ to watch a live stream of the launch. A collaboration between NASA and Elon Musk’s Space X company, it was the first commercial craft to bear astronauts from US soil to the ISS space station. Cameras captured astonishing close-ups of the rocket’s first stage plunging back to Earth for a perfect landing on a drone-ship. Billed as a ‘Launch America’ mission, the event saw President Trump boast of making America ‘number one on Earth’ and ‘making space great again’. Yet even as NASA director Jim Bridenstine evoked the spirit of 1969 ‘to bring people together’, the country was convulsed with #BlackLivesMatter protests. For all the suspense and glory of that fiery cigarette stub streaking through the blue, it couldn’t distract us from the cities burning below. If anything, their juxtaposition only recalled the Space Race’s dark subtext.
One of the things that’s always fascinated me about humans in space is their profound seclusion. Think about cosmonauts cooped up in those tiny modules of the Space Age. Or those Apollo Lunar Commanders who sailed around the Far Side of the Moon utterly alone, out of Comms. reach. Even with his strumming guitar, who could be lonelier than Bowie’s Major Tom communing with a crackly Ground Control? ‘I'm feeling very still.’ So as we Earthlings weather a lockdown we never trained for, what can we learn from astronauts who’ve been doing this for years?
Talking of reaching for the stars and finding Earth, can we all doff our helmets to Alexei Leonev who passed away this week? What an extraordinary man. In those early days of space travel, the Space Race recruited plenty of courageous explorers. But rarely were they so articulate about what they experienced, so artistic in their vision. Leonev is best known for undertaking the first ever space walk or EVA. His own paintings show him as a white suit hanging on an umbilical cord above the blue planet. The dark visor reflects the deep, leaves us to guess the emotions of a man untethered from his homeworld.
As Space X's Starship rocket takes to the skies this October, Space Cat Press unveils our own out-of-this-world series of launch events. Our first title, Desert Moonfire: The Men Who Raced to Space is now on sale. To mark its lift-off, we invite you to a book fair, a FREE writing workshop and a book launch featuring model rockets, moon cake, and an explosive story! All this and our first open submission window coming up.
July 20th 1969. Where were you? Were you here at all? Today is 50 years since the first humans touched down on another world. And NASA has invited us to trawl through distant memories and share our Moon-day stories.
As we cruise towards the Lunar Landing 50th anniversary, here’s 5 of the best TV shows, movies and podcasts showing now. Strap in for a warp-jump through decades of nostalgia and awe.