Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Space Travel/ Maureen Lipman

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Space Travel/ Maureen Lipman

Article excerpt

Wally Funk is on a mission -- to make real her dream that a woman will walk on the moon in her lifetime. She was one of 13 female pilots who trained at Nasa alongside the Mercury 7 astronauts as they prepared to go to the moon. But when the Apollo programme was abandoned in 1972 (in part because of the costs of the Vietnam war) her dreams of going into space were also junked. Now, though, she has renewed hope, as governments and corporations have resurrected the space race, no longer confined this time to America versus Russia but also involving China, India, the European Space Agency (Esa), as well as Virgin Galactic, Moon Express and Blue Origin.

In The Weekend Documentary on the World Service (produced by Sue Nelson), the distinctly unfunk-like Funk (who, from her vibrant voice and straight-talking presenting style, you can't imagine funking anything, ever) took us back to the 1960s and Cape Canaveral. She recaptured the excitement of the lunar launches, everyone glued to their TV sets as the team at Nasa counted down to lift-off (even the telephone area code, 321, reflects that momentous era, Funk revealed). Back then, it all seemed very territorial, as Neil Armstrong planted the US flag in moon dust. Now the talk is all about exploiting the moon's minerals, and its suitability as a stopping-off place on the way to Mars.

In Paris, meanwhile, within sight of the Eiffel Tower, Funk met the team behind Europe's plans to build a space village on the moon, which will be international, free and open to everyone, fuelled by technological progress, and an 'antidote to terrorism, economic crisis and climate change'. 'That's a big plan,' remarked Funk. She was shown a sample brick made from simulated moon dust fused together in a microwave powered by solar energy. The brick was only half the normal size. 'You're gonna have to have an awful lot of dust,' she told them.

She knows from her experience how difficult it is to realise your dream, and how suddenly you can be blown off course. 'Are your astronauts learning Chinese?' she asked, acutely aware that such practicalities are essential if space is to be truly free and open, and a place where the global community comes together. But after meeting Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut who's credited with being the first to brew an espresso in space and who speaks Russian and Chinese, she is beginning to think her mission might just be accomplished. 'It's just a shame it won't be me.' Too right, Ms Funk.

In The Conversation this week, also on the World Service, Kim Chakanetsa wondered why so few women, fewer than 3 per cent, have been involved in international peace negotiations. …

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