It’s been a few weeks since Chris Hadfield appeared in Dublin, where he was treated with a reverence somewhere between that afforded to the Beatles and the Virgin Mary in 1960s Ireland.
After a long period in which space was deeply uncool, it’s back in fashion, with competitions to go to space even being run by deodorant brands.
I put this down to a few things: the Big Bang Theory has helped to make nerds loveable; the rise in billionaire techies like Mark Zuckerberg, revealing the potential profit in spending the entirety of your teenage years in your bedroom, and of course the new, sexed-up Star Trek franchise.
I was reminded of this at a work event when, to my delight, I ended up seated beside a confirmed nerd friend rather than the usual rugby-playing accountant.
My pal casually name-dropped Chris Hadfield, whom he’d met in Dublin. Hadfield, it seems, is a Captain Picard rather than a Captain Kirk. Those of you who are Trekkies, or live with a Trekkie, will know what this means.
Like Hadfield, Picard (Patrick Stewart) is a Renaissance Man. Hadfield’s well-read, wise, singing astronaut persona has worked wonders for the image of space travel.
The latest evidence that this is a real craze is a competition being run by a private company, Mars One, which is raising billions for a new venture to colonise the red planet.
And people are queuing up to join – they have short-listed from the original 200,000 applicants, and there’s one Irish guy on it.
When I read this headline, I immediately scanned the page, panicked. For, dear reader, I live with a Trekkie; this is how I know so much about Captain Picard. He’s more than capable of applying for something like this.
But – relief – it wasn’t him.
Joseph Roche from Co Kildare is the Irish guy who made the cut. Fair play, Joseph, and best of luck. He’ll need it. Because if Joseph does make it to the final few, he won’t be coming back. Ever. The aim is to get people living on Mars, so they can find out what needs to be done for us Earthlings to be able to utilise the resources there. That means living in a space suit, in a tiny enclosed space, with a few other people, for the rest of your life.
Anyone who watched Hadfield’s videos of life in the space station and the difficulty of the tiniest tasks would have a good idea of just how tedious zero gravity could get after a while.
It all sounds very traditional explorer, albeit with restrictions – think about Columbus setting off in 1492 with maps suggesting “here be dragons”. But apart from the lack of gravity, the space suits, the close confines and the technology, there’s one major turning point in how we interact with the new world: it’s going to be a reality TV show.
The Hunger Games will be like Little House on the Prairie by comparison – in this venture, there’s the possibility some or all of the participants will die.
Then again, it could end up more like Big Brother, with all those people stuck in a confined space, though if you’re expecting romantic action, forget it. If you’ve seen Mr Hadfield’s videos, you know what happens to bodily fluids in zero atmosphere.
The final frontier is getting closer, and Joseph is prepared to boldly go where the rest of us will only venture through a button on our TV remote. More power to him.