Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering 2010: Odyssey Two

Happy New Year!

The end of the year is a good time to remember 2010: ODYSSEY TWO. Arthur Clarke's sequel novel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was published in January 1982, having already been snapped up by MGM for a movie. As we would expect from Clarke, the novel is full of cool sci fi innovations. We witness a spacecraft aerobrake into Jupiter orbit, a scientifically plausible sidetrip to Europa including life forms, and the planet Jupiter transformed into something wonderful. The film directed by Peter Hyams was released in 1984. While not a classic like Kubrick's 2001, the movie is still very entertaining as a harbinger of what may await us in the Solar System.

Many people decry that we have not reached the spacefaring heights of Clarke's fictional future. However, our Space probes have not done too badly. Today machines have orbited both Jupiter and Saturn. The 2001 movie Discovery ended up orbiting Jupiter; in the novel Jupiter was used for a gravitational boost to reach Saturn. In 2001 HAL the computer intended to continue Discovery's mission without humans aboard. Many of the wonders that might have been found by the fictional Discovery have been seen through automated eyes.

Despite limited resources, science has made many discoveries. Signs of extraterrestrial life may have been found in a Martian meteorite. Cassini at Saturn has found geysers on Enceladus and made many discoveries about the Rings. While we have not found monoliths on the Moon, an anomaly in the lunar orbital evolution is striking evidence for a changing speed of light. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment left behind by astronauts may Lack of resources has led scientists to use their ingenuity.

In both 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and 2010: ODYSSEY TWO the Soviet Union is still a major power, and the Cold War is raging. During 2010 East and West nearly come to blows over a Central American crisis. Nuclear war was a great concern in 1984, so the filmmakers added a peaceful message. We should be thankful to have lived beyond the Cold War.

One way we have improved on 2001's universe is in the role of women. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY the only American women seen in Space are flight attendants and receptionists. A pair of Russian woman scientists make a cameo appearance in the Space Station lounge. In 2010: ODYSSEY TWO the Russian spacecraft has at least two women in the crew. One young woman provides some company to Heywood Floyd during the frightening aerobraking sequence. The Russian crew is led by the incomparable Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN, PRIME SUSPECT). In this alternate universe Russian women are leading in Space.

As of reality's 2010 only three Russian women have visited orbit: Valentina Tereshkova (1963), Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) and Yelena Kondakova (two flights, 1994-5 and 1997). The US, in contrast, has produced many woman astronauts. We have met female pilots and Shuttle commanders like Eileen Collins and Pam Melroy. Today NASA's astronaut office is headed by Peggy Whitson. America women have taken leadership positions in Space.

The role of Russian women in 2010 was a reflection of optimism. The Soviet Union had scored propaganda points by putting Tereshkova and Savitskaya ahead of American Sally Ride. Press stories promised women a future in the Soviet system that never materialized. Hopefully we will someday see more female cosmonauts.

In the 1980's the Soviet system appeared to be self-perpetuating. Arthur Clarke showed his sympathies by naming most of the 2010 cosmonauts after Soviet dissidents. The Russian spacecraft was powered by the Sakharov Drive, invented by the real-life physicist and dissident. Though Clarke let the Soviet Union survive into 2010, he was not a fan of Communism.

This has been a good time to review 2010: ODYSSEY TWO. We are always disappointed that humans have not reached the heights seen in the movies. However science and automated probes have made some unexpected discoveries, including signs of extraterrestrial life. Like the Monolith, seeds of life may even have arrived via meteorites from Space. Our Earth, especially in the role of women, has surpassed the society glimpsed in the movies. The world of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and beyond still inspires us to reach for the stars.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Happy New Year Louise!! I've enjoyed your posts all this year. I look forward to more enlightened perspectives in 2011. Best, Reg, Emeryville, California

12:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hope you had a Merry Christmas, and all the best for 2010. I always enjoy the elementary physics in Clarke's fiction (while I'm generally skeptical of the literary themes.) The pogo stick EVA maneuver in 2010 is awesome!

Best, Jim.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Happy New Year! Yes, it has been an interesting few decades for women. There was much promise in the 1980s, but in truth The Men had not thought ahead, and when they began to see changes with their own eyes they did some smooth backtracking.

10:36 AM  
Blogger James said...

And reaching for the stars is not just a metaphor! I started a blog myself, focusing heavily on space exploration of course.

Hope all is well in Clear Lake,

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