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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Rockets




Well, I'm not sure if it was thinking about A and her posterior or famous fictional Belgians (more of which in due course) that got me thinking about rockets. I was a child of the Apollo age and watched live as man landed on the moon. I followed every Apollo mission and knew every astronaut's name.




I even still have my copy of Peter Fairey's Space Annual. Peter Fairey was the ITV space correspondent and was not, of course, a patch on the BBC's James Burke who is, of course, a genius and should have been on TV much more than he has been in the last three decades. I actually saw James Burke filming inside Lloyd's of London once. He was wearing, inevitably, a cream suit and a dark shirt. I was very excited.




I collected all the Airfix space kits: Saturn V, Lunar module, the Sikorsky capsule recovery helicopter. I even had the rare Saturn IB and, my favourite, the Soyuz/Vostok kit.




I always felt that the Soviet rockets were sexier than the American ones. Not in a Freudian way (at that time I would not have understood the allusion) but Sergei Korolev's R7 launcher (originally an ICBM and still today the basis of Russian launch vehicles) had all those strap on boosters. It looked like a space rocket should look and still does. It is, in short, a design classic and rather like the Porsche, however much they change it the basic design fundamentally remains. The later models had a far more slender looking body because of the extra height added above the boosters, whereas in the earlier rockets the boosters made up more of the total height and gave it a hulking, brutal sort of look.








Before men took colour pictures in space we had to rely on artists like the great Chesley Bonestell.  His books with Willi Ley such as The Conquest of Space and Beyond the Solar System were some of my favourite books to borrow from the library. His spacecraft often had exactly the sort of pods and boosters seen on the Soviet rockets so perhaps it was the influence of his paintings that led me to appreciate them more than the rather dull American designs.






I couldn't really read these books, of course, as I was only six or seven at the time but his paintings of future space craft were extremely evocative of a cold, clean, technological future which, of course, never came to pass. Viewed now they are more alternate history than anything else.




This brings us to our fictional famous Belgian. No, not Hercule Poirot, the other one.  The other key rocket of my childhood was the one that Tintin took to the moon in the books Destination Moon and Explorers of the Moon. The latter book was the most popular book in my junior school library and it was always on loan. I only managed to take it out once. I was not a Tintin fan nor even a comics one but the nuclear rocket ship from the book looked stupendous. It also had lots of exciting decks within it for holding stores, vehicles, crew quarters etc. This made it ideal for me to recreate in Lego. Even though, of course, in those days Lego bricks were all square or oblong so all my rockets were square columns rather than tubular. There are several very expensive models of this rocket but all are, sadly, solid so no decks to play with. Recently, however someone who designs for the Early Learning Centre got it right with this "inspired by" model.



I would have loved one of these when I was six.



Maybe once I have finished with the Croissant Sisters in Egypt I need to send them into space..

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