This lovely rocket-plane has sent me into several orbits of nostalgia. It’s ultra-modern, but doesn’t it look like everyone’s childhood notion of a space rocket…certainly mine, based on the 1950s comic-strip adventures of space hero Dan Dare.
I’ve always liked science fiction, and Colonel Dan Dare is to blame. I couldn’t get enough of his exploits in the 1950s, every week in the Eagle comic, and also dramatised on radio as ”Dan Dare, pilot of the Future”. He wasn’t on the BBC, but on the commercial station Radio Luxembourg, which broadcast every evening in English. It eventually became a purely pop station, beloved by all teenagers who found the BBC in the 1960s too staid; but in the 1950s it had radio quizzes and plays in among the records.
Dan Dare himself was played by British actor Noel Johnson, and every 15-minute episode ended with him, or his sidekicks Digby and Jocelyn, caught in some dreadful scrape, which they magically got out of the following night. Ah, more nostalgia…Radio Luxembourg, Station of the Stars, 208 meters on the medium wave. Anyone else remember?
Oh well, back to the present. This lovely 21st-century rocket-plane is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which Branson plans will go into space this year, with him in it. It had its first powered test flight this week over the Mojave desert. A jet-plane carried it almost ten miles aloft, then released it so it could use its own rocket to fly even higher; it climbed several thousand feet under its own power, broke the sound barrier, and finally glided back to safety on the ground. AOK…did Dan Dare say that? Probably not, he’d prefer “Jolly good show.” Everyone involved with the test said the new ship had passed an important milestone on its route into space.
Hundreds of would-be space tourists have already signed up to travel on Branson’s new craft when it’s in service. They’ll go high enough above the earth to see its curvature, and to feel the amazing sensation of being weightless. I’m green with envy – at two hundred thousand dollars a trip, it’s way too expensive for me. But I can dream, can’t I? One day, if I sell a million books, or a bunch of film rights, maybe I can scrape together the fare, and I’ll join that queue. Till then, I’ll watch with admiration as Richard Branson and his team turn science fiction into fact.
I wonder if any of them ever read Dan Dare stories when they were young?