How AdVINTAGEous – Armstrong, Aldrin and Lady Penelope

‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Thunderbirds are go!’

Those words, and that FAB, unmistakable theme tune are firmly embedded in my head for all time. Sitting on our living room floor, we got as close to our new family colour telly as it was possible to get without blurring our vision, or Mum crying ‘move back, the pair of yer, yer’ll both get square eyes!’ We were so close as our new telly may have been super duper colour, but it was a tiny, portable one. My little brother and me were small, immovable objects during Saturday morning viewing. One of the Swap Shop segments was a series re-runs of Thunderbirds, a thing of beauty which Our Kid and me never saw first time round due to not being born.

Thunderbirds toys. I loved Captain Scarlett too.

On a parallel circumference

Now rewind back about ten years from that new telly and Our Kid and me blasting off with International Rescue. Back as far as the summer of 1969. Everyone should know that the major event which took place was Neil and Buzz’s small steps, and the resultant significant shift in the science and technology of space travel.

There was also a significant shift in the future of my parents, holidaying under canvas in Blackpool, and sowing their own seed! The Eagle had indeed landed, though Mother didn’t realise it quite then.

Now zoom forward nine months to April 1970. Yet another significant event for NASA. In Houston, Texas, the staff at Mission Control would have been oblivious to the un-momentous occasion of my birth in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. They were rather pre-occupied trying to avert disaster with Apollo 13, which should have landed on the moon on the day I arrived – but it didn’t.

Add to this, eleven years later, the first Shuttle launch which I watched on TV at school (not quite live) – Columbia blasting off on Grandad’s birthday April 12, and landing safely two days later, on mine. With all this spacey stuff coinciding weirdly with my life, it’s no wonder I was always interested in what was occurring beyond our Earth in reality and also in fiction. Neither will it come as any surprise that I’ve had an affinity for and fascination with the moon, for as long as I can remember. I even used it as my daughter’s middle name.

Launch of Space Shuttle Columbia in April 1981

Steely-eyed Missile Men TV takeover

But back to Thunderbirds, it took me until I was watching them yet again, with my young ‘un, to realise that the characters’ names were the same as five of the original seven NASA astronauts: Scott, Alan, Virgil, John, Gordon. Surely this was no mere coincidence. It seems that there was no-one in the Tracy family to share names with the other two astros, unless I’m missing a trick. Maybe Gerry Anderson thought Walter sounded old, or implied (unfairly perhaps) a wally, and Deke (or Donald) in reality had never made it into space at that point, due to atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).

Original Seven NASA astronauts Top: Alan Shepard, Virgil (Gus) Grissom, Gordon Cooper. Bottom: Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter 

But it did bring home to me just what a big deal astronauts, cosmonauts and the whole space gig actually was from the 50’s to the early 70’s when funding cuts cancelled the Apollo missions after 17. Astronauts were like Hollywood stars or pop idols. They were paraded about on publicity tours, jazzed around in snazzy motors, and inspired writers to create scripts for the types of programmes I loved to watch. Battle of the Planets, with their equivalent of International Rescue, G-Force, was fodder for my young, fertile imagination.

Following the mainstream drama Sci-Fi theme were Space 1999 with Martin Landau, Battlestar Galactica starring Dirk Benedict who went on to be Face from the A-Team (another Saturday evening staple for another time), and of course the daddy of them all Star Trek.

Technology from an alternate universe

Star Trek was a product of the late sixties. Without the first astro and cosmonauts there may never have been (in the Trek timeline anyway) the Eugenics war, Warp travel, Starfleet. Neither might there have emerged The Next Generation, Deep Space 9 or Voyager to explore even more new life and new civilisations.

And in a strange quirk of life imitating art, without Trek would we have had such technology as mobile phones? Enterprise away teams used flip-up communicators to talk to the ship all the time until they were replaced by the more advanced method of tapping their insignia badge. Now we have laser surgery, sub-dermal implants, robotics, impressive prosthetics all derived from stuff I saw on Star Trek. OK it was much syndicated by the time I got to sample these delights, but maybe Gene Roddenberry was the unsung most progressive thinking bloke of his time.

“Kirk to Enterprise”

There have been no moon landings since Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt touched down in the Taurus Mountains in December 1972, but even then, interest was suddenly on the wane. News programmes no longer wanted to focus on what they may have deemed more ‘routine’ missions, till popularity fizzled like a cheap firework.

Space-Trek The Next Generation

A while back, I remember a smattering of some TV enthusiasm in the Pathfinder mission, when a little machine touched down on the surface of Mars and sent back images and telemetry. Watching at home on my telly (a decent-sized one this time), patiently waiting for the signal to reach Earth from Mars, I thought the whole thing was – in layman’s terms – ace!

As a young lass (in the days of aforementioned colour portable telly, when Thunderbirds rocked my world), I’d aspired to be an astronaut. My dream crash-landed when I realised:

  • I needed an aptitude for maths and science, which was clearly lacking.
  • I have claustrophobia.
  • The ginormous rocket which actually propels you out of Earth’s atmosphere is rammed so full of fuel it’s unreal – and that’s just one hazard!

There smoulder the ashes of my ambition. So I’ve stayed terrestrial, and read books and watched documentaries instead. Oddly enough, as I type this up, I’m listening to David Bowie’s Space Oddity unplanned, another coincidence?

Moon over Slawit

Jillslawit is not the next Valentina Tereshkova, or Tim Peake. However, the current resurgence in space exploration is inspiring a new generation. Maybe if one of my little granddaughters studies hard at Uni in years to come, she might be boldly going where no-one from Slawit has gone before. If anyone has, I will cheerfully stand corrected.

Take the conn, Mr Sulu, ahead warp factor five…

…or more accurately, to come full orbit and return to the beginning: “Take me home, Parker.”

“Yes Milady.”


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