and alien enthusiasts rejoiced at reading headlines about UFOs in reputable
outlets such as The New York Times. Thinking about the infinite cosmos also
provided a psychological release from the grinding pandemic, when “space”
tended to be measured in square feet.
are some highlights.
became a retreat for plutocrats more exclusive than Bohemian Grove this year,
as two billionaire earthlings — Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson — took maiden
voyages as space tourists, and made the term “masters of the universe” just a
bit more literal.
this space race, Branson went first July 11, soaring 50 miles above the New
Mexico desert aboard the VSS Unity, which looked eerily like a hood ornament
from a 1956 Chevy.
Amazon’s 200 billion dollar man refused to concede. Nine days later, Bezos
soared 65 miles above Texas wearing a flyboy-meets-cowboy ensemble not seen in
aerospace circles since Slim Pickens in “Dr Strangelove,” and claimed victory,
noting that he actually crossed a boundary known as the Kármán line 62 miles
above sea level into so-called “real” space.
a rocket is a phallic symbol. But does it have to be so blatant, like something
Carrie Bradshaw might have picked up at the Pleasure Chest?
had scarcely blasted off for his 10-minute maiden voyage to space when social
media erupted with X-rated memes. One porn site even created a line of sex toys
called the Billionaire Flesh Rocket Series.
the snickering died down, engineers pointed out that the rocket’s bulbous tip
and roomy shaft allowed for maximum occupancy and, also, stability on reentry.
No jokes, please.
ET PHONE US?
sightings no longer occupy the same cultural space as Bigfoot or Jim Morrison
sightings at Burger King.
June, the federal government declassified an intelligence report in which it
admitted there is no earthly — or, at least, governmental — explanation for
more than 120 reports of “objects in the skies,” as former President Barack
Obama put it on “The Late Late Show With James Corden.”
that mysterious Kubrickian metal slab in the red canyons of Utah was likely an
artwork or a hoax, not alien. And an eerie radio signal from the direction of
Proxima Centauri was, alas, probably just human radio frequency interference.
Given the state of the world, though, you can’t blame people for hoping to find
intelligent life somewhere in the universe.
the United States Space Force unveiled its uniforms in September, it was hard
not to make joking references to “Star Trek,” or the Netflix show “Space
Force,” starring Steve Carell, that parodies the sixth and newest branch of the
asymmetrical dark blue coat with grey pants looked to many observers like it
had been designed by science fiction nerds. “The US Space Force Will Wear
Battlestar Galactica Uniforms,” declared a headline on Giant Freakin Robot, an
rivalry between the United States and China extended far beyond national
borders. In February, NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars and
achieved a “Wright Brothers moment” by launching the first powered flight on
another planet (a small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity).
in May, China landed a rover called Zhurong in a huge basin known as Utopia
Planitia, which was not only its first exploratory trip on Mars but also
ushered in a new era of space competition, as it showed its ability to compete
in a space race long dominated by Americans and Russians. The Chinese rover
even planted a wireless camera on the red dirt and snapped a picture of itself.
How 2022. What’s the point of travelling if you don’t get the selfie?
IN THE HEAVENS
travel movies are as old as cinema itself, thanks to Georges Méliès’ landmark
1902 film, “A Trip to the Moon.” In 2022, however, a Russian film crew spent 12
days aboard the International Space Station, filming scenes for “The
Challenge,” the first feature-length drama containing scenes shot in space.
will tell if the film, about a surgeon rushing to space to save an ailing
cosmonaut, will become a science fiction classic. If nothing else, however, the
filmmakers beat the Americans to the punch. (Plans for a Tom Cruise
action-adventure movie shot in space were announced last year.)
Sputnik, now this. At least the Americans got that gold medal in hockey.
MOVE THE LAUNCH DATE?
July, Oliver Daemen, 18, the son of a Dutch private equity executive, became
the youngest person to travel to space when a would-be Blue Origin passenger,
who had paid $28 million for the privilege, had to drop out for a scheduling
conflict. Must have been some conflict.
LITTER WHERE NO HUMAN HAS LITTERED BEFORE
being humans, we leave a mess wherever we go. In May, a 10-story, 23-ton piece
of a Chinese rocket came crashing down to the Earth in an uncontrolled path,
leading some to wonder if it would fall on their heads. Luckily, it fell
harmlessly into the Indian Ocean.
November, the Russians created another mess when they tested an anti-satellite
weapon on a defunct spy satellite, creating an enormous cloud of debris that
forced astronauts aboard the International Space Station to batten down the
fear that all that space junk may make space travel difficult or even
impossible in the future. But maybe there’s hope. In March, a Japanese company
launched a space vacuum of sorts to suck up some of the 3,000 inactive
satellites orbiting Earth. If only we could recycle them.
FINAL FRONTIER, AT 90
Shatner, the actor who made space travel safe for sideburns and Beatle boots a
half-century ago, seized the record for oldest person to travel to space in
October, by tagging along with Bezos on a Blue Origin voyage.
was fair to wonder if Bezos was just using his billions to indulge a boyhood
fantasy. Bezos, after all, is a confirmed Trekkie who once competed with his
fourth-grade classmates for the right to play Kirk. “We’d have little cardboard
phasers and cardboard tricorders, you know,” he said at an event for The
Washington Post in 2016.
seemed to be a fanboy himself. “Yes, it’s true; I’m going to be a ‘rocket man!’”
he tweeted before the trip. He even promised to write a song about the
experience. Too bad “Space Oddity” is taken.
The New York Times Company