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blasts from the past and into the future

There was an interesting combination of programmes on BBC2 on Monday, firstly ‘Horizon: Man on Mars – Mission to the Red Planet’, followed by ‘The Culture Show: Lego – the Building Blocks of Architecture’.  Catch them on iPlayer while you can!

Horizon discussed the difficulties in transporting people to Mars, in terms of logistics (fuel, water, and recycling human waste) and safety: the effects on their bodies of radiation and the lack of gravity, as well as the psychological effects of boredom and confinement over a year-long journey.  It also considered  improvements in spacesuit design, and the difficulty in slowing down sufficiently for landing and what to do once there to survive the dust storms. The distance between Earth and Mars  means that a lot of new technology will be required so the solutions used in the Apollo moon missions are no longer applicable, which means the old assumptions of recruiting astronauts from the ranks of test pilots  no longer apply. It’s therefore perfectly possible, despite the sexist title of the programme that some of the crew may be female (if they can be safely injected with testosterone!)

What the programme didn’t consider explicitly was the reason for sending humans to Mars, other than general curiosity. There appeared to be an assumption that a launch date might be 2033, assuming all the engineering issues could be resolved.  I’l be 72 then, so it’s feasible that I’ll see it take place, just as I did the first moon landing when my father woke me up in the middle of the night to make sure I saw such a historic event. Collecting the set is a possibility! New engines are currently being tested in the United States, but the programme concluded that the scale of the mission is beyond any single country or private company, so a partnership of some form will be required.  Step forward Mr Branson and Mr Gates.

It’s exciting to think that the space exploration I used to read about as a child is once more a possibility.Which leads neatly to the second programme I mentioned.  Like many children  in the 1960s I enjoyed playing with Meccano and Lego, so I was intrigued by the idea of the plastic brick’s influence on architecture.  But the programme turned out to be so much more than that. Starting at the time of post war reconstruction, when playing with Meccano and Lego was a positive, hopeful and non-destructive outlook, the programme moved from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water through 1970s prefabricated system buildings to post-Post-Modernism.

It looked at some of the more futuristic styles of architecture, but most interesting,  at least to me, was the artist using vast piles of white Lego in Albania to start collaborative discussion about how to rebuild the country after the fall of Communism. From there, the programme suddenly moved to the use of Minecraft, both as a game for young children and as a tool for public consultation in town planning circles. When I was a town planner, Sim City was considered adventurous but not particularly useful.

With appropriate timing, given the Culture Show’s topic,  I saw the Kelpies this weekend, two enormous steel horses heads currently nearing completion near Falkirk and Grangemouth.  I say ‘with appropriate timing’ because the Kelpies look like they’re made from tiny futuristic silver Lego, forming yet another leap from our pasts into the future.

 

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Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 art, sculpture

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