Have you ever wondered why the British Experimental Rocket Group never got us to the Moon?
Nigel Kneale, authorised biographer of (and chief propagandist for) Professor Bernard Quatermass, was always quick to blame it on the militarisation of the British Space Programme, while American analysts tend to pin it on the UK’s lack of frontier spirit and yankee know-how (and there is certainly evidence that Britain tried to recruit some of that – though they ended up with a washed-up alcoholic who spoke so quickly you always had the sense that he was impatient for any conversation to end so he could get to the bar).
The truth, however, is revealed in Stephen Baxter’s Moonseed (1998).
On p.451 of a 534-page novel, we read that a US astronaut, who has landed on the Moon in a jerry-rigged emergency mission to save the Earth,
sipped her … tea. Even freshly made, it did not seem hot enough. One of the old clichés of lunar travel, she thought: water boils at lower temperature in low pressure.
And, as this model and the Winnerton Flats prototype reveal, the lunar domes Quatermass intended to build would not have solved the problem.
Basic physics robbed us of the Dan Dare future we were promised. Once it became clear quite how rare a nice cup of tea would be in space, we as a nation – an entire nation – just lost the will to go there ourselves.
However, the story does not end there.
A careful reading of Baxter shows that it was Britons who unleashed the planet-destroying Moonseed, thus forcing the US and Russia to co-operate in the mission that would ultimately lead to the rapid terraforming of the Moon (and then, it is implied, human expansion across and beyond the Solar System). And should anyone doubt that this is ultimately a British triumph, observe what happens on pp.489-90. Henry, the American responsible for setting the lunar expedition in motion and for sneaking along the equipment necessary to make the Moon habitable at the speed (if not quite the absurdity) of Total Recall, knows that his crazy plan has worked the moment it starts to rain on the Moon.