Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Of Iranian Space Monkeys and Other Real Life Space Invaders

“Space,” as 70s prog-rock legends Hawkwind once told us, “is deep”. But that’s not all, for as Yuri Gagarin also informed us, it can be a disappointing place for religious believers. You see, the first cosmonaut apparently took a peek out of the porthole while he was in orbit to see if the Deity was floating about. When he didn’t see an old man with a white beard anywhere nearby he allegedly declared: “I don’t see any God up here.”

I was thinking about Gagarin’s ultra-scientific observation this week when I read about the Iranian space monkey that the mullahs reportedly shot into the cosmos a few days ago. What did our terrified primate friend see up there as he looked out the window? If he told his theocratic bosses there’s no Allah, then he’d be for the chop. On the other hand, since it is strictly forbidden for Muslims to depict Allah, there’s no way the monkey could have recognized his Creator in the first place.

This is all assuming Iranian scientists can interpret monkey talk, of course.

Still, it was interesting to see the news media’s response to Iran’s first space monkey. Although Iranian state TV treated the flight as an amazing achievement, people in rich countries viewed it as a bit of a joke. You see, we’ve been there, done that- launched satellites, put the inhabitants of zoos into space, played golf on the moon, dumped a lot of junk in orbit… or at least the Russians and Americans have. Heck, America first put a monkey in space in 1948, five years before the CIA toppled the Mossadegh government!  That’s ancient history in scientific and political terms.

I mean, over here in the civilized West, our space exploration goals are just so much more sophisticated and advanced. For instance, NASA is currently using a radio-controlled golf cart to search for hypothetical dead microbes on Mars. Now finding hypothetical dead microbes on a dusty rock – I’m sure you’ll agree that is very important stuff. But putting a live monkey in the void? Been there, done that. It’s strictly yawnsville, man.  

Not so in countries governed by rubbish regimes however. In places like Iran or North Korea it’s considered a joyous moment when you successfully approximate the most advanced science of your mortal enemy as it stood sixty-five years ago. Think about it for a second and you will grasp the terrible soul-anguish of the totalitarian thug. For the Mullahs of Iran, America is the Great Satan and they the servants of God. But while God’s people just unveiled the interstellar equivalent of a vacuum tube in a big brown box, Satan is kicking back and watching porn on a 90” 3D HD flat screen while sipping on a brewski.

O, why is the Evil One so advanced, and the Righteous Man so backward? Imagine the cognitive dissonance the Mullahs have to endure! North Korea also desperately seeks self-respect by sending ramshackle rockets into the void. Every time one of those things doesn’t explode, the leaders of that hopeless country give each other a high five.

Of course, the Iranians and the North Koreans view the military applications of their space programs as important too, but never underestimate the desperate quest for dignity. Indeed, it’s not just gimcrack regimes that feel the need to compete with what America and the USSR were doing when Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was a baby. I used to know a semi-legal Chinese import/export chap in Moscow, and vividly recall his pride when his motherland launched their first Taikonaut in 2003. I was impressed too: the Chinese did it themselves you see, whereas Britain’s first astronaut was an employee of the Mars chocolate factory who cadged a lift from the Soviets in 1991.

Last September Indian PM Manhoman Singh announced that he wanted a son of his homeland to walk on Mars before the Chinese got there; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the Brazilians and Turks also have ambitious space programs.  Like erecting very tall buildings, shoving humans into space is a means by which rapidly developing countries declare their arrival as serious players on the global scene. Indeed, I am sure the leaders of India and China dream of superseding America and Russia as masters of space and thus technology. In that sense, the cosmos truly is destiny.

As for the Iranians and the North Koreans: not so much. They shoot things into the void to compensate for the bad ideas ruining things for people at home. Can’t afford to eat meat? Never mind, we just put a monkey in orbit! We have also put some worms up there! Now who else can do that, eh? What, the Americans? The Russians? The Chinese? The Indians? Silence, traitor or we’ll toss your family in jail!
Ah, well, never mind: welcome home, Iranian space monkey. Now tell me, did you see God up there?