To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of NASA’s Freedom 7 mission, which saw Alan Shepard become the ‘First Man in the Free World’ to take a ride on the end of a rocket, I will be presenting the lecture ‘Living in Space’ at the ICA in London on May 5. Taking place fifty years to the day when Shepard made his short – if heroic – ascent, my talk will be concerned with biological time, architecture and technology. Consider it a counterpart to ‘Radiant Static’, my recent talk on Yuri Gagarin at Club Integral. This time my words will also be accompanied by the sublime radiophonic tones of The Asterism on dials, wires and bleeps. It should be quite an event.
No rocket ever survives its entry into space. It becomes consumed instead, dismantling itself in carefully timed stages, disintegrating and dispersing in an excess of energy, waste and debris: a brief moment of industrialized ecstasy. Then it falls away into uselessness.The desire to build a rocket positions you in both time and space. A trawl through NASA planning documents dating from the Moon landing onwards reveals the forced pace of progress: a manned landing Mars by 1982, a functioning Lunar base by 1995. Meanwhile gravity holds you in place.
Space exploration reads too much like a history lesson these days: we’re already haunted by it, forgetting specific details, glossing over events. ‘Isn’t it better to talk about the relative merits of washing machines than the relative strengths of rockets?’ Richard Nixon asked Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev during their televised ‘kitchen debate’ back in 1959, without a single housewife in sight. Call it progress if you will.
A featured part of the Strange Attractor Salon currently in residence at the ICA, the talk will start at 7.00 pm and will be followed by a screening of Larry Cohen’s The Stuff. Tickets for the talk and the film can be bought separately at £5.00 apiece, or you can pay £8.00 and see both my talk and Cohen’s barf-tastic masterpiece in one package – although I do not recommend trying to take in both at the same time.
‘Living in Space’
7.00 pm, May 5, The ICA, The Mall, London
Pictured above: Alan Shepard – doing it for the Free World.