The picture I was talking about in the last post is now available here: no idea what the stars are, but it seems possible the smudge near the bottom is actually Mars. I still think it's both wonderful and historic, and that the newspaper photo editors choosing to use artist's impressions instead are missing a trick. The sight of the spacecraft moving through deep space is the iconic image of science fiction film: it's the Discovery pulling slowly by the PoV, it's the star destroyer taking over the top of the screen and pushing us down into Lucas's world like a whale swamping a swimmer. And it has had no real correlate until now. Space agencies spend a great deal on providing animations of their creations alone in the comsos, doing their stuff -- but until now I don't think we've ever seen the real thing.
Nor will we again for some time; there's no offboard camera on the Mars Exploration Rovers that will let us watch as they trundle away. I don't think there's a separation camera on Cassini that will show Huyghens separating and heading off for Saturn (an event that happens on December 25th next year -- another Christmas ruined, at least for some). So SF will remain the place to go for spacecraft seen from other spacecraft for quite some time. The nearest we'll get is if NASA's Deep Impact succeeds in hitting a comet with a projectile as it passes by in 2005, in which case it will be doing something that should actually be visible to earthly telescopes, even quite small ones.
While on the subject of science fiction coming true, one of the reporters yesterday asked Colin Pillinger what his inspiration had been. The Pill says "He's sitting in the audience -- Charles Chilton", and a sweet old man stands up to a round of applause, that protion of it from the younger people polite but a little baffled. Charles Chilton wrote sixty episodes of a BBC radio series called "Journey Into Space" in the 1950s and thus fired a lot of imaginations. I didn't get to ask him what he thought of having inspired a mission to Mars, and by the look of Google News the other hacks didn't, either. I imagine he was jolly pleased.
One of the characters in Journey Into Space, I find, was called Lemmy, which makes me wonder whether Chilton also influenced the soubriquet choice of Motorhead's front man. This would be a very good thing: the more connections between the Pill and iconic metal acts the better the world will be. There appears to ba an accepted origin story that sees "Lemmy" as a contraction of "Lend me", but a choice of name seems to me something that can easily be overdetermined. And Lemmy did start off in the extremely SF-nal Hawkwind.
More on the radio show here, including downloads; and here's a wonderful set of covers from Chilton's novelisations. All very swept-wing and Bonestell-y, though with an intriguingly abstract offering from Spain and what appears to be a Gemini capsule going backwards from Italy.