A couple of years ago, I was talking on the phone with my Mum. Nothing so unusual about that, you might think (unless you’re thinking that was the last time I talked to her, in which case I assure you I’m not quite that feckless) – except that she was sitting at home in the UK, and I was standing in the middle of a field in rural New Zealand, chatting to her on my mobile phone.
What’s quite awe-inspiring about this, when you think about it, is that people who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1960s will tell you that you that they were effectively cut off from the family they left behind in Britain; letters could take weeks or months to arrive, and telegrams were short and too expensive for most. Step forward 40 years, and I was able to travel in their footsteps to the opposite side of the globe, and still engage in a real-time conversation with the folks back home. Such are the scale, and pace, of the changes wrought by satellite technology.
The sheer pervasiveness of satellite communications and imagery in the modern world prevents, I think, the mere idea of a man-made object orbiting the Earth from inspiring much awe. Every day I see images like this (click on the images for their source):
and whilst the pictures themselves may impress me, I often forget that the fact that we can take such pictures at all is equally amazing. This makes it hard to imagine what it must have been like for the people who were listening and wondering below as Sputnik 1 beeped its way across the sky 50 years ago. Sometimes, though, modern technology enables you to do something so amazingly cool that you finally grasp – if only for a second – how mind-blowing it must have been for those people back in 1957. For me, it was standing in the middle of a Kiwi field, talking to my Mum back in England.
Have you ever had a Sputnik moment?