Space Age Stories

Marina Benjamin. Rocket Dreams: How the Space Age Shaped Our Vision of a World Beyond. Chatto and Windus, 2003.

If there be such things as precognitions, then this elegy to the space age published weeks before the Columbia disaster must be one. Marina Benjamin grew up a wannabe astronaut obsessed with rocket dreams, a harvester of all the collectable trivia of the age. Today the age of the astronauts has passed into history, the visions of its pioneers have become the quaint ambitions of a far gone age. The loss of the Space Age seems to symbolise the loss of a whole raft of innocences, the gradual closing of all avenues of hope.

The drive behind much of the space race was the search for transcendence, an escape from the human condition, and that still remains. Marina Benjamin takes us on an amusing journey to Roswell, and presents an insightful portrait of that place. It's perhaps significant that the Roswell legend began to develop just as the Space Age began its slow decline. If we can can't go out and meet space, then perhaps we can believe that space has come to us. These days we offered journeys of transcendence and escape in the inner space of virtual reality and cyberspace, rather than among the far stars.

Roswell and cyberspace meet in the SETI project which uses a computer screen saver programme to link up PCs around the world to eavesdrop on the radio music of the heavens, in search of a 'message' among the static. Some word from the Great Old Ones which would lift us out the mire of history. No matter than any such message would either be a banality, quite irrelevant to the human situation, or, most likely, be quite incomprehensible, or become the focus of innumerable contending cults.

The transcendent vision which came to the astronauts was not of the beckoning planets, but of the Earth left behind, this was the vision transmitted back to home, not the grim grey desert of the dead moon. The one warm oasis in a bleak immensity.

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