Autumn is killing me (metaphorically) – with shorter days and the lack of sunlight I’m continually tired, an at the moment I’m glad when I finish paid work in time, so I would ask the people who asked for held for a little more patience (I know I make these excuses quite often, but there you go).

So while I can’t provide an update on the module I can at least give you a small update on what’s happening in space, because these last few days have been a good time for space exploration.

At Oktober 21. a soyuz capsule returned to earth from the ISS; part of the crew was Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the first astronaut from Malaysia. I was actually a little annoyed that his religion was so much a matter of public display – but then it’s probably just fair, Christians did it before with bible readings from orbit, and one has to commend Malaysias religious authorities that they managed to reconcile not religion and rationalism, which I think is impossible, but at least religion and pragmatism in such matters as prayer times and such. But as a life long Saganite I’m much more pleased with international cooperation.

A new crew member and new equipment is on it’s way to the International Space Station with STS-120 and the Orbiter Discovery. Shuttle Commander Pamela Melroy and her Crew deliver a new module – Node 2 a.k.a “Harmony” – to the station which will mainly serve as a connection point for other modules, including the european Columbus. Speaking as a european I can hardly wait. And it’s time that a bit more science happens at the ISS.

The International Space Station has been pretty much a failure so far, and I think this can be largely attributed to the fact that construction lags so far behind the planned schedule – Russia had a delay in manufacturing station components and there was another shuttle accident and the thing is by now much more expensive than planned (I nearly wrote “as expected”) and generally things haven’t been going to well. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame hinted somewhat subtle (and a number of commenters brought the point home quite bluntly) that the station should be dropped althogether (if this were possible). I usually agree with what Dr. Plait says, not so much because he’s an expert but more because he is an expert who will happily eat his own words if it turns out he was wrong. But I still think the station should be finished, because if we – and it’s “we”, this is an international project – can’t even finish a project more or less at the front door then how can we ever think about building more ambitious projects (like e.g. interplanetary spacecraft) ?

But maybe there should be a lesson learned for later projects. I’m all for international cooperation (that Sagan thing again), but if possible partners should contribute complementary, not interdependent parts, so that a mission can still be sucessful when one piece is delayed or even fails.

Of course some people try to do things on their own (especially since they were obviously shunned from working on the ISS, I hadn’t been aware of that), which makes for the most exciting news – China has sent the Chang’e 1 probe to the moon, and that is only the first step in an rather ambitious space programm that is supposed to sent a man to the moon in the next 15 to 20 years. I guess by now a manned flight to the moon is not so much a matter of available technology and more a question if you are willing to spend the ressources (I’d venture that a moon base would be less expensive than the US war in Iraq…), which makes China the best candidate for a return to the moon – the Chinese seem to only ones willing to pull this off. Perhaps if we ask nicely they will sell us some tickets 😉

And speaking of the moon, Japan Kaguya probe has now reached an orbit from which it can start scientific observation – it’s a pity I don’t speak japanese (or ‘scientese’ for that matter), but I expect sooner or later some bits of data will trickle down to us english-speaking laypersons.

As I child I used to watch Space 1999 on television and being a child an sometimes unable to distinguish fiction from reality I was convinced that there would be a permant presence on the moon by the time I would grow up and I could buy a ticket to get there. Most annoyingly this hasn’t happened. But even if I can’t go there I hope somebody will.