Doing The Space Walk

Perhaps it is the poet in me, or perhaps it comes from my romantic nature but some mornings I do actually  feel like I’m Being Followed By A Moon-Shadow, as I make my way home after Dancing On The Moon Last Night, (well, it was such a wonderful night for a Moondance !). I have seen some Bad Moon Rising from time to time but I have learned recently in the title of a new album from jazz vocalist Karla Harris that it is possible to turn a blue Moon To Gold. However, after reading a recent newspaper report from La Voz For Lanzarote I keep hearing a croaking voice asking ¨Can You Hear Me, Major Tom?¨ So, come follow you art and Write A Song About The Moon as we spacewalk along the sidetracks and detours over Lunar Mani to The Sea Of Tranquillity, away from the War Of The Worlds.  

There has been quite a buzz on social networks over the last few days about a  series of photos made by Rosa García, taking advantage of the so-called full moon of November beaming down on Lanzarote.

Rosa wanted to pay tribute to the figure of the camel in Lanzarote. However, she waited patiently for a long period of time for the perfect moment, which did not arrive until November 7th, in Uga and with the camel driver Toño Morales and his camel, named in serendipity, Apolonio.

Rosa herself explained she had been planning the photo for a whole year. “It has cost me a lot because the Moon rises in the east and sets in the west, but it does not always come out at the same point, it is rolling and you have to plan the exact place and place the camel. Nor could it be full night. I have made three or four previous attempts,” he explains, telling the problems he has encountered in his different attempts.

Rosa is about to publish her next lunar photograph: an image taken on November 8th and with her daughter, who is pregnant, as a model.

But how does Rosa find out when the perfect moon for photography is going to rise. “I have done the preparation through mobile applications,” she says, admitting that she spends the day with her mobile in her hand, planning photos.

We are also told, by the excellent news service La Voz for Lanzarote that The European Space Agency is returning to Lanzarote to train astronauts for future missions to the Moon and Mars but,  (not that I am paranoid or some sort of conspiracy theorist), I can’t help wondering, returning from, where? 

The European Space Agency (ESA) will return to Lanzarote to carry out a new geological and astrobiological training program for the PANGAEA astronauts. The objective of the passage through the region known as ´rabbit lands´ is to learn to function in geological environments and, in this way, prepare to go to the Moon or Mars. Thanks to their stay on the island they will learn about the geological interactions between volcanic activity and water, two key factors in the search for life. In addition to Lanzarote, this intensive course, celebrating its  fifth edition, will also travel through different parts of the European continent

The European Space Agency has been moving its human and technical teams to Lanzarote for more than five years thanks to a collaboration agreement signed with Geoparque Lanzarote and Archipiélago Chinijo.

Alexander Gerst, geophysicist, volcanologist, commander of the International Space Station in 2018 and ESA astronaut, will be one of the members of the expedition that will arrive on the island to carry out the training. The astronaut has extensive experience after having spent more than 5,700 sunrises and sunsets in space. In addition, he also conducted underground explorations as part of ESA’s CAVES training in 2019.

Alexander Gerst was born in Künzelsau, Germany, on 3 May 1976. His favourite sports are fencing, swimming and running. He especially enjoys outdoor activities such as skydiving, snowboarding, hiking, mountaineering, climbing and scuba diving.

Alexander graduated from the Technical High School in Öhringen, Germany, in 1995.

Between 2001 and 2003, while researching his master’s thesis on a volcano in New Zealand, Alexander developed new volcano monitoring techniques that may improve volcanic eruption forecasting. The results were published in Science Magazine.

Alexander worked on developing scientific instruments at the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Hamburg between 2004 and 2009.

From 2005 to 2009, while at the Institute of Geophysics, he also worked towards his doctorate, investigating volcanic eruption dynamics on active volcanoes. His research goal was to determine the mechanics and the energy released during the first seconds of a volcanic eruption. His research led him to visit volcanoes on all continents, concentrating on an active volcano in Antarctica. In 2007 Alexander received the Bernd Rendel award for outstanding research from the DFG German Research Foundation.

After being selected as an ESA astronaut candidate in May 2009, Alexander officially joined ESA in September 2009 and completed Astronaut Basic Training in November 2010.

In September 2011, Alexander was assigned to fly to the International Space Station on a six-month mission serving as a flight engineer on Expeditions 40 and 41. He was launched on a Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in May 2014 and returned to Earth in November 2014. This mission was known as Blue Dot and saw Alexander work on a comprehensive programme of European and international science in space.

In May 2017 Alexander’s second mission, Horizons, was announced, as well as his assignment to the role of International Space Station Commander for Expedition 57. Alexander is the first of ESA’s class of 2009 astronauts who travelled to space for a second time. He flew to the International Space Station on Soyuz MS-09, together with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Russian spacecraft commander Sergei Prokopyev, on 6 June 2018 and returned to Earth on 20 December 2018.

Alexander is currently serving as commander on board the International Space Station and is the second ever European astronaut to hold this role.

On the other hand, Stephanie Wilson, NASA astronaut, will also be present in the development of these activities. She is one of the oldest astronauts of the American institution and is part of Team Artemis, a select group that prepares for upcoming manned missions to the Moon. She could be the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface. Stephanie has so far participated in three Space Shuttle missions to the International Space Station and has logged more than 42 days in space.

María Dolores Corujo, president of the Cabildo de Lanzarote, pointed out that “the uniqueness of Lanzarote’s volcanic landscapes and its similarity to the lunar landscape have made our island one of the best training camps in the world for astronauts, geologists and scientists, which is invaluable”.

For his part, Jorge Peñas, Minister of Lanzarote Geopark and Chinijo Archipelago, stressed that “it is a source of pride that Lanzarote is once again the scene of space training, putting the island and its important geological heritage in the international spotlight”

The song, Armstrong, released to commemorate the feat was misinterpreted by many as being a dissent against the space mission that put Neil Amstrong down on a lunar surface in July 1971. John Stewart’s lyric told of how the very courage and daring of even dreaming of landing  on the moon had the poor children in Calcutta and the disenfranchised aboriginals in Australia all staring up. seemingly  in hope, entranced more than ever by our moon.

Of course, there were those among us who thought the planted flag was blowing in the wrong direction in the wrong way, the shadows were out of line and sadly no friendly alien beings slid backwards or forwards in a Moonwalk to welcome the humans, and nor did a cute ET beckon a wrinkly finger.

¨but the world all stopped to watch it on that July afternoon:

to watch a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon´.

The euphoria of making a landing increased the impetus and urgency of the space race, and we were all led to believe we’d be dipping our toes in that Sea Of Tranquillity in holidays to come. That hasn’t yet happened even as we suffer from pollution, global warming and watch how, as John Stewart put it, …

´war and hate is killing off the only home we’ve ever had.´

Nevertheless for a few years after that first lunar landing we all had optimism for the future and in the capability of Mankind, and let’s be honest, even now, whenever the International Space Station crosses over Lanzarote through our relatively unpolluted skies and my wife logs the flight path on some kind of technology she has, and then steps out onto our patio, spots the craft and waves up to Tim Peake or whoever the occupants of this interplanetary craft might now be, it is impossible not to be amazed at what we as a world have achieved. 

We, as a species, have been clever enough to seek new directions and opportunities, to find new planets to colonise, as if desperate to flee this earth. 

But it was The Animals not Man, who first roared in pain and growled 

´we’ve got to get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do !´

That seems a bit more urgent than the dreamy song Colin Lever and I wrote and recorded as Lendanear at the time of the moon visits, 

´Stars in the moonlight, love in the stars

gonna go dancing from Venus To Mars.

Doing the spacewalk, gravity free

to take to the waters of Tranquillity Sea.´

The space race, certainly for my now seventy year old generation, was an exciting race to be a part of, begun as it was by President  J F  Kennedy, even as we began to question the dangers of it all and the economic cost.

Even my gentle lyrics changed mood by the final verse to speak of

doing the spacewalk, gravity free, as lone star is shooting bullets at me 

I remember that I used the phrase lone star to turn the cliche of a million stars on its head, and that shooting bullets at me was a phrase to avoid the cliche of ´looking daggers at me´ to convey that this lone distant star was somehow envious of man’s ability to ínvade´ space in this way. At the time i was concerned about the phrase lone star because it seemed singular but not sufficiently specific.  I perhaps was concerned, too, that it conjured an image of the bright star that led The Three Wise Men and The Three Kings to Bethlehem. I wasn’t sure that science and technology and God / religion was a happy mix, so have I always fretted about the line, but because Colin sang it so well and it fitted so well the mechanics of the song, I left it alone.

Even as I was writing this article, though, I realise that in associating Kennedy with starting the space race that connotation of a starting pistol, and the sniper bullets that assassinated him before the race was even run, must surely have led me to write that line… has honestly only just dawned on me,….lone star,…. Texas, where Kennedy was shot. is known as the lone star state, and that phrase, and the reference to bullets,  written as plural rather than the single ´magic bullet´ that allegedly killed him, must have sub-consciously been written because  I was and remain, such a huge conspiracy theorist.

So, perhaps I wrote the line to stand as a reference to Kennedy being shot by bullets in the plural in Dallas of The Lone Star before I would share the world’s grief for the so many similar heroes subsequently assassinated over the period of a violent decade as they rode to their own Jerusalem. 

Of course moon landing in particular and space exploration in general  cannot help but raise all sorts of socio-religious issues. Climate change has made us more aware of our responsibilities to this planet and to our children’s children who might inhabit the planet if it survives the liberties Man has taken.

Julie Gold, in From A Distance,  a song that became a global for Bette Midler, and was recorded by likes of Nanci Griffith and Cliff Richard, wrote that God is watching us, in a phrase that it as at once both comforting and vaguely threatening.

Whether or not you view Man’s exploration of Space as Enterprise (a great name for star-ship !) or encroachment (which might be just as appropriate) the NASA trainees are acclimatising here on Lanzarote.  So we might here some strange sounds form our lunar-lokalike lava fields. Those sounds might be of a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band member howling at the moon, or of an urban spaceman calling occupants on inter-planetary, most extraordinary craft.

Somewhere on the Timafaya landscape there might be an aspirant astronaut taking a look down at the lava beneath his feet and looking up to the stars in the heavenly Lanzarote sky over Shnagrila Park, softly whispering ´íts life Jim,…..but not as we know it.´