To go boldly to boldly get there;Opinion

7th May 1999 at 01:00
It was Robert Louis Stevenson who preferred travelling hopefully to arrival but then he wrote in a different age. These days we travel solely in order to arrive, buy the T-shirt and take a few photos of each other standing in front of things.

Travelling to broaden the mind disappeared about the same time as the mindless started to travel. People who promote package holidays have a lot to answer for in my opinion and it's the package mentality that bothers me so much about this new pound;35,000 day trip into orbit that is going to be on offer to us shortly.

My seven-year-old son is over the moon about the possibility of taking his holidays over the moon but I can imagine nothing worse. First of all think of the kind of people who have pound;35,000 to spare on a day out. Would you really want to share your first orbiting experience with that kind of idiot? Then imagine the amount of time you'll have to spend going through security.

Flying back with El Al recently I was subjected to two hours of checks plus a 30-minute Mossad interrogation about my business in Israel. Given the perverse kudos that will attach to the first terrorist group to blow up a passenger rocket I can forsee that security is going to be very long and arduous. As will be the prelaunch safety checks: in the event of an emergency we will be issuing you with space suits which can easily be fitted in 45 minutes, as your stewardess will now demonstrate.

Mind I'm not immune to young Tom's enthusiasm. Flying high enough to see the curvature of the earth and the stars' true brightness has its appeal. As does plunging back earthwards to experience the thrill of weightlessness. But there is more to space travel than just being able to say "Oh, here's one of me and the curvature of the earth".

How many of those who've shelled out the price of a small house to secure their place on the shuttle would think of spending pound;10 on books that tell them why the earth is round or why we experience zero gravity during freefall? We want the souvenir video, the photo that says "That's me and the curvature of the earth". What would Stevenson make of a nation who would rather pay out pound;35,000 for a T-shirt than open a text book?

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