Ground Control to Major Tim

Hip hip hooey, the first Brit in space has just made it to the ISS–er, not exactly.

The Woman from Mars:

Helen Sharman, remember her? Don’t worry if you don’t, the Press will (grudgingly) remind you. She was actually the first Brit in space, back in 1991, but apparently Major Tim–who incidentally left the British Army some 8 years ago, so unless the European Space  Agency uses army ranks, is a retired major–is the first British astronaut that British tax payers have funded to go into space. ‘Our Helen’ was funded, or to be more precise, her trip, was funded by a consortium of British companies. Or wasn’t, because the British Companies didn’t cough up enough readies for the trip, and a lottery also failed to raise the necessary. In the end, the Russians paid for most of it. Never mind, she was the first Brit in space, but because there’s no news this week, Major Tim is–except he isn’t.

Other Brits in Space:

The most notable to date has been Michael Foale, who has made six flights and stayed on both the Mir station and the ISS. He works for NASA and holds joint US and British nationality, so obviously doesn’t count. In the 1980s there were several Brits who almost flew on Shuttle missions–but didn’t and all subsequently resigned from NASA, presumably in fits of pique.

Really, why all the fuss?

The BBC, in an uncharacteristic mood of national triumphalism, has been avidly broadcasting Major Tim’s every move in the last 24 hours–I’m surprised a BBC reporter wasn’t there to comment on his first pee of the day. Now, I certainly don’t begrudge the bastard his moment of glory–I’m 20 years older than him and have wanted to be an astronaut for far longer than he has, and I’m not envious or  bitter and twisted about it–but really–I mean the Beeb can’t even be bothered to name the other two astronauts (or one astronaut and one cosmonaut) on the flight, it’s all ‘Tim, Tim Tim’. It’s not as if he was launched form somewhere in the Scottish Highlands,aboard a launch system made by BAE, he was launched from Kazakhstan. He was launched by a Russian rocket, and he was sitting in a Soyuz (Russian) Capsule. He is a member of the European Space Agency.

I feel sorry for Helen. She’s been wheeled-out to fly the flag, and has been dutifully saying how marvellous it all is. To listen to her, you would hardly think that she must be speaking through gritted teeth. Is it because she’s a woman? I don’t know, but she underwent an exhaustive selection process, 18 months training  before her flight, and deserves the accolade of the first Brit in space, with no qualifying statements such as–but Tim is the first Brit into space paid for by the British tax payer–so what?

Good luck, Tim, you lucky (but you had to earn the flight, I know that) sod, but Helen remains the first Brit in space. Well done, that girl.

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