How & Why Wonder Books were… wonderful!

Collage of covers from How & Why Wonder Books from 1960 through to the 1970sI’m currently writing an essay to explain what I mean by “middle class values”, but I’ve been sidetracked into childhood memories about cows (don’t ask!) and rediscovering one truly wond’rous part of my childhood: the How & Why Wonder Book series.

If you can point to one thing that made me the geek I am today, it’s this series of books.

Each one was just 48 pages long, and the illustrations were usually paintings — pretty corny by today’s standards. But they really did create a sense of wonder for the Science and Technology which was unfolding in The Space Age. The first one was issued in 1960 and they ran well into the 1970s.

Looking through the lists put together by collectors intabits and Joe Roberts, I reckon I had at least 23 of the titles.

My favourites were The How & Why Wonder Book of Planets and Interplanetary Travel (insanely optimistic, in hindsight), Rockets and Missiles, Atomic Energy (no nuclear waste here, just atomic trains!) and The How & Why Wonder Book of Robots and Electronic Brains — man, there’s a whole essay in that last title alone, eh?

I bet my mother still has them stashed away in a cupboard somewhere.

Virgin unveils first commercial spaceliner

Image of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

OK, it’s not really a spaceliner, ‘cos it won’t be making any leisurely cruises to Mars or even the Moon. It just goes up and then comes down again. But it looks so goddam sexy.

Virgin Galactic has presented the world with this sexy design for SpaceShipTwo, which will start taking paying passengers on a sub-orbital trip in 2010, eight people at a time.

Sir Richard Branson reckons it’s important that the project is a genuine commercial success.

If we do [this], I believe we’ll unlock a wall of private sector money into both space launch systems and space technology.

This could rival the scale of investment in the mobile phone and internet technologies after they were unlocked from their military origins and thrown open to the private sector.

Virgin Galactic reckons the carrier vehicle — White Knight Two — is very nearly finished and will start flight tests later this year. SpaceShipTwo is about 60% complete.

They’ll look rather spiffy parked outside the Foster+Partners spaceport they showed us in October.

Spaceport America, designed by Foster+Partners

Artists impression of Spaceport America

Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport, is being built in New Mexico for Virgin Galactic. Who else would you choose to design it other than Foster+Partners — follow the link for more piccies. Thanks to Wired for the pointer.

Given all the announcements of a spaceport in Australia, a shame it’s not somewhere like Cairns. Or Uluru. 😉

Bonus space link: Arthur C Clarke on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.

The Space Age is Dead

Photograph of Sputnik 1What has happened to our sense of adventure? 50 years ago today that Russian metal thing (left) went “Beep, beep, beep” and we were thrust into the Space Age. But now the Space Age is dead.

On 4 October 1957, it was a beach ball with a beeper inside. A month later, 3 November, it was a differently-shaped Russian metal thing with a dog inside.

“Jay-zus,” thought America, collectively. “Those goddam Commies have gotten into space! And they’ve got The Bomb.” They called it “the Sputnik Crisis” and the US created ARPA (which eventually developed the Internet) and New Math (which created a huge market in hula hoops for primary schools).

The first human in space was in 1961. And only eight years later people were walking on the moon.

But now, in 2007, it’s been 35 years since anyone’s been to the moon. Indeed, it’s been 35 years since anyone’s been more than 480km from Earth.

Continue reading “The Space Age is Dead”

Now about this spaceport…

I’ve been researching Australia’s contribution to the Space Age for an article to be published in Crikey today. Part of that narrative seems to be the continual announcements of plans for a Spaceport which never come to anything.

And those three are just a taste! When will this spaceport actually happen?

50 years old tomorrow, the Space Age began with the launch of Sputnik 1. Australia’s current role in space is a set of commemorative postage stamps. Wow.