Saturday, April 19, 2008

European Surfers In Space - The Right Stuff?

lab_image_surfinastronauts

The headline that "European surfers could qualify in a new rush of astronauts" certainly caught my eye. On closer inspection, the article in question was more about the European Space Agency's latest recruitment drive and any link with surfing was tenuous at best...

...though I once shook hands with the man on the moon - well, one of them. Back in the late 70's an assembly hall full of slouching Belfast schoolboys were roused from their routine impression of the living dead when it was casually announced that they'd be getting a "talk" from one of the Apollo 15 crew. Back then, before we got Shuttle sated and bored with the space race, it was a big deal. And in the seven years spent at that "ancient and royal" institution, Jim Irwin's address is the only memorable event in our oversized hall that I have any recollection of. That and the time the stage team lowered (in a series of supremely comical jerking motions) a large white banner emblazoned with the crude but nonetheless effective call to "Spot The Looney" behind the back of our pompous headmaster, all mortarboarded, bespectacled, gowned and mightily kerfuffled.

lab_image_jim_irwin Having bagged a front row seat, I noted that Jim had one leg shorter than the other. He wore a chunky platform heel on one foot to compensate - and presumably to stop him walking in a circle. This and his diminutive stature only served to magnify the man's charisma. The shortened leg was the result of an injury sustained in an earlier crash. He'd followed the typical career path of many of the early astronauts that started with test pilot and ended with NASA - and his pocket sized person was preferred for the cramped cockpits of the first spacecraft. His vision of the earth from space - a great blue ball, the talk of zero gravity and Lunar Rovers had us hanging on his every word and quite appropriately moonstruck. To this day, as my Nippers are bored of hearing, I'll look up at a full fat moon and exclaim that "I shook the hand of a man who drove a dune buggy up there!"

But surfers in space? Not sure that's such a good idea. Warp speed - two words that may allude respectively to (a) the mental state and (b) the drug of choice of the surfer that gets too far away from Deep Blue and ends up in Deep Space. Case in point, this exchange from the magnificent film Dark Star between the stir crazy acting commander (Doolittle) and the spaceship's navigator (Talby) as a potentially serious systems glitch arises:

  • DOOLITTLE: You know what I think about, Talby?
  • TALBY: I'm getting something here, on this readout...
  • DOOLITTLE: It's funny, but I kind of sit around, you know, a lot of time to myself...
  • TALBY:I think I'm getting a malfunction here somewhere.
  • DOOLITTLE:I can't talk to the others, but with time to myself, I think about back home, back home at Malibu. I used to surf a lot, Talby.I used to be a great surfer.
  • TALBY:Lieutenant Doolittle, I'm getting a definite malfunction on one of the closed-circuit computer systems...
  • DOOLITTLE:The waves at Malibu and Zuma were fantastic in the springs Talby. I can remember running out on the beach early spring mornings with my board and a wet suit...
  • TALBY: I can't seem to locate the malfunction exactly...
  • DOOLITTLE:Waves would be peaking really high and glassy.Hit that water. Ridin' the wall just perfect.
  • TALBY:...somewhere in the autonomic relay circuits...
  • DOOLITTLE:I guess I miss the waves and my board most of all.

(I couldn't find this clip in English but here's the exchange in full - in German with appropriate angst)

As you may have surmised, this lack of focus from the melancholic surfer doesn't bode well and the mission goes pear-shaped. Doolittle, however, gets the ride of his life and goes out with a bang. Gnarly or what?

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