|Rocketships are romance.|
However grounded they were in speculative engineering, rocketships were ultimately acts of art. They were unreal transports to a heaven closer than God’s. They were graceful. Hopeful. Evocative.
A Lunar Excursion Module is not a rocketship. A LEM is a quasimodoan apple pegged on a foil-wrapped, four-legged cardboard box. I agree there is a kind
of beauty to it. There is no grace, however. Even its name is graceless.
And when the lunar astronauts returned, they did not gracefully descend — but fell; in a practical, man-packaging cone, wingless, powerless, splashing into the sea.
Even when astronauts acquired wings, those wings were stubby. The Shuttle was a train-car with ailerons, a brutish airplane without the slick menace of an SR-71, the aloof magnificence of a B-52, or the subtle panache of a DC-3. Whatever else, the Shuttle was surely no rocketship.
Now, I didn’t grow up with a romantic anticipation
of the Space Age. I and the Space Age are siblings. I was six when we landed on the Moon. The rocketships I encountered were already passé, simplistic and dreamlike, images in outdated storybooks and encyclopedias. And yet, even then, those images were not so very old to me; and somehow they retain a nostalgic weight.
So one day recently, in this year of 2019, when I am fifty six and Apollo 11 is fifty years past, I was surfing through dumb videos on YouTube — not even cyberspace is quite the wild thing it was once romantically expected to be — and I came upon a recording of SpaceX ships returning to Earth. I knew about these SpaceX successes, but since I get my news from video-free blog posts, I had not seen such a recording before.
|I watched. I saw spacecraft descending from the clouds, landing with flames, vertically and grandly like... rocketships. Oh, yes, the SpaceX ships are only tubes with brackets. They moved so perfectly, though. Even without portholes and silver fins, they stirred me.|
Real rocketships, at last!
I really do agree that the LEM has its own beauty. In fact one of my favorite SF spacecraft is the Eagle from Space: 1999
— a ship clearly using a LEM aesthetic. My mother once wondered why I liked the Eagle. "It's so clunky," she said. Yeah, Mom; but it's cool