Dec 29 2013

The Final Frontier

scene composition: litho, frame 22The ISS (International Space Station) passed over the UK several times yesterday.

One pass had an elevation of 87°, meaning it would be almost directly overhead and on this particular pass it was also scheduled to have a radio chat with some scouts in The Netherlands.

Now, I’m always trying to find ways to interest the kids in science, and so, at the allotted time, I tuned in to the correct frequency, dragged the horrors from their Xboxes and we gathered around the radio.

As soon as the ISS breached the horizon, we could hear a faint voice coming from the speaker. As it passed overhead, it strengthened to the point where it was perfectly audible with just some scratchiness in the background. “Who is that talking?” asked Amelia.

“That”, I said excitedly, “is an astronaut!”

“Meh”, said Harry, shrugging his shoulders and running back into his bedroom to continue his online battle with a horde of aliens.

Amelia seemed genuinely interested though, and together, we listened to the radio until the signal broke up when the station disappeared over the eastern horizon just several minutes later.

“How do they live up there?” she asked, and for the next thirty minutes or more, I explained as much as I could, with the help of Google images and YouTube videos.  The video that captured her attention the most – being a kid and therefore having an unhealthy preoccupation with all things scatological – was the one explaining how astronauts go to the toilet, but on the whole she seemed genuinely interested in all of it.

And for a while, I was excited too. Maybe this really has captured her imagination and maybe it will stick and will spur her on; give her an ambition to follow a career in the sciences (rather than her current lofty goal of following her mother into the Royal Mail) and, who knows, maybe even into space itself.

And then Mrs Masher came home from work. Amelia immediately charged downstairs and, speaking nineteen to the dozen,  animatedly told her what we had been doing for the past half an hour.

“Well, that’s nice”, said Mrs M, “but I’m off to Next now to get a new scarf. Do you want to come?”

“Yes, yes, YES!” said Amelia, flying up the stairs and grabbing her coat and trainers. “Bye Dad!”, she shouted as she flew back down the stairs and out the door.

I sighed, my hand still on the mouse: hovering over the pause button of the video we had been watching together only a couple of minutes earlier, as I realised that, to an eleven year-old girl, science could never really compete with the opportunity to browse designer knitwear.


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  1. Brennig

    The generation of your children have been brought up with FTL intergalactic travel, matter transporters, and aliens of every size and shape. I’m impressed with any child who shows genuine interest in real space adventures, but a few people sitting in a glorified satellite doesn’t hold much attention for most of them. Still, you did an excellent job. What you need to do is tell your daughter the astronauts are working on low-gravity methods to manufacture silk scarves, and you’ll have her attention for weeks :)

  2. Toffeeapple

    NASA keeps sending me e-mails about the hight and timings of the Space Station but I have never yet seen it go over. Did you see the videos that Col. Chris Hadfield made when he was in the Station? Amazing.

  3. Toffeeapple

    height, obvs!

  4. Masher

    Bren – Maybe NASA could team up with Next to produce smart but casual spacesuits. No reason why one shouldn’t look good in space!

    TA – Yes, I did them. Liked his guitar playing especially!

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