On Crossing the Deep
Updated: Oct 4, 2020
I have often tried to get my head around the idea of what it must have been like for those thousands of uneducated and unsophisticated medieval European peasants who set off across the sea on a pilgrimage or a crusade. For the pilgrim boarding a small (by today's standards) and frail (considering conditions at the time) wooden ship, the sea must have seemed like endless, unknown space. It must have been not all that different from the experience of an astronaut taking the elevator up to a tiny, silver, space capsule atop a Saturn rocket at Cape Canaveral, even if the astronaut's education would have prepared him a great deal better for the unknown into which he was embarking. (I would like to ask an astronaut if, sitting above a metal container full of a couple of million litres of rocket fuel about to be set alight, he did not wonder, as I surely would in that situation - what in heaven's name had possessed him?)
This analogy comes naturally for someone who grew up through the early years of the Space Age. I was in kindergarten when the Sputnik burst onto the pages of newspapers and flickered on televisions (not ours, as at that time my father was strongly opposed to having one in the house, although he later softened and eventually became addicted). Like many other children growing up in the late 50s and 60s, I remember each new space-related event and each astronaut or cosmonaut's name, from Yuri Gagarin to John Glenn and Alan Shepard. I was fascinated by the idea that people could actually be up there on a tiny white light that looked no different from the countless stars as it slowly moved across the deep, black, endlessness.