Houston, NASA  

Space Rocket

The picture for this edition of our photo game was taken at NASA in Houston, and it seems to affect one’s view of space exploration in unexpected ways. First of all, just its size helps you to understand how much power is needed to break free of Earth’s gravity, and then you realise with a shock the bravery required just to sit on top of what is essetially a rocket motor with an enormous amount of fuel attached, while some scientists blast you into space. (It’s like a Human Canonball on a much larger scale.) But then when you look at the picture closely, as you have to do to find the difference, it strikes you how primitive and simple this space machine is – the five exhaust pipes look as if they had been fabricated out on the farm in Texas by someone in need of a water tank. Admittedly this particular generation of rocket is no longer in use for manned flight, but the heyday of Moon exploration was only a very few decades away: Neil Armstrong uttered his historic statement as the first man to step onto the Moon’s surface in July 1969, and the USA’s manned Lunar Programme was all over by 1972.

Then when you think about it some more, the picture is a kind of icon of the amazing pace of human progress: it was in December 1903 that Wilbur Wright made the first ever flight in a prototype aeroplane; in 1909 the FrenchmanLouis Bleriot crossed the English Channel in in his Type XI monoplane, to win the Daily Mail’s £1,000 prize and become a clebrity; and by June 1919, Alcock and Brown had made the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic. Sixteen years from first flight to crossing an ocean, and with a World War in between, seems a fantastic pace of development. Yet perhaps from first flight to moon landing in just 60 years is even more amazing. The redundant NASA rocket, parked on its low loader, seems to typify Man’s relentless urge for technological progress.