Thursday, January 11, 2007

More Poms in Space

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

This is an alleged advertisement placed by the Discovery expedition to Antartica led by Robert Scott and including Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1901. Shackleton would later go on to set further precedents in Antarctic exploration including the furthest south expedition in 1909. Fast-forward almost 100 years and the NASA Moonbase, in the still more desolate and forbidding region of the Moon’s south pole, is a crater named after Shackleton himself. The same spirit of exploration that drove the great British explorers of the 19th and 20th century is found today in the American space agency. It’s easy to imagine the explorers of old picturing themselves as one member of an illustrious and continuous line of explorers who, as technology improved with time, would naturally go on further, higher, and to do even greater things. The naming of that region of the Moon is testament to that spirit. Shackleton’s inspirational will and vision provided a legacy far beyond what he probably would have comprehended, extending beyond even this planet. It will be a tragedy if the UK cannot see the good in being able to make a recognizable mark to space exploration as a distinct collaborator rather than a subcontracted minor player.
I never really understood why the Brits walked away from space exploration. Even if they had gone on to just do unmanned probes for an extended period, it would have been better than how this played out. True, they had economic problems, but one could imagine a TL where the Brits give up their earth bound Empire and instead became the leading light in space.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're posting from an alternate universe where the British Empire lasted at least until the 70's, right?

Bruce

Will Baird said...

Actually, I was thinking back a little earlier if the Brits had taken the intiative in the early 1950s instead. Very different space race and empire disentanglement TL.

James Nicoll said...

With all due respect to the British, WWII left them pretty broke, which would seem to limit the number of large scale projects that they could undertake.