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Red 4 Down

I was really quite upset to hear Red 4 was down. I watched the news – flicking between Sky and BBC with little hope. I saw him a month ago in the skies over Southport. Alas, I have no photos. I used the last of my battery charge on XH-558. The Red Arrows go on forever of course – or so I thought. I have seen them before and I shall again. I should have saved some time but… Isn’t that life? And death.

I should have said something earlier but I wanted the dust to settle and didn’t really know what to say.

Then I picked up an old collection of sf stories called “Master’s Choice Vol.1″ I’d bought recently for pennies in a second-hand shop and happened quite by chance upon “Requiem” by Robert Heinlein – a story I had never read. It starts with this quote:

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will!

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

The story is about an elderly businessman who due to his personal passion invested early in space, made a packet from it and despite the better judgement of his company and his legacy-seeking family, employs two washed-up rocketeers and burns it all for one lonely impulse of delight – to visit the moon. Where he dies.

Flight Lieutenant Egging, it shall go on because you are not the only one to love the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Per ardua ad astra!

We just want to go home.


  1. Simon G says:

    Aye, most upsetting.

    I was also at Southport and took some snaps of them. Feel free to use one of mine.

  2. CountingCats says:

    You have never heard of Delos D. Harriman?

    He is one of the great unsung heroes of the space race; that he never existed is besides the point.

    Did you know that Woodrow Wilson Smith was the backup pilot for Harrimans first expidition? And if you don’t know who Woodie Smith is, then no damn Heinlein fan are you.

  3. Schrodinger's Dog says:


    Off topic I know, but thanks for bringing back some memories.

    As a teenager I read both Requiem and The Man Who Sold the Moon. At the time – circa 1980 – the plot lines of both seemed utterly implausible: private corporations going to the Moon? Far more likely that would always be the provenance of governments. But it looks like the Grand Master of SF was right after all, and the real life Delos D. Harrimans are slowly but surely starting to appear.

  4. JuliaM says:

    “The Red Arrows go on forever of course – or so I thought. I have seen them before and I shall again. I should have saved some time but… Isn’t that life? And death.”

    The more flight hours you rack up, I guess the greater the chances of something happening, no matter how sublime your skill, or how expert the ground crew.

    A sad weekend indeed.

  5. NickM says:

    I have never claimed to have read much Heinlein. Indeed I’ll level with you. I have read “Requiem” and “The roads must roll” and repeatedly started “Stranger in a strange land” and that is it.

    I actually think it’s a bit more complicated than that. The company has a sort of government concession and is tightly regulated. It is not really the model I look at. Goddamn it! You think I had Elite on my Speccy and Hardwar on my PC for fun? No! Training manuals for the C21st. Hardwar is actually quite an interesting study in anarcho-capitalism. Not that I was musing that when I was running body parts to the aliens…

    Seriously though believing space as a government thing is much the same as believing hosting the 2012 Olympics will produce a generation of physical superkids. It just doesn’t work until it becomes commercial. Until, dare I say it, it becomes real. Almost mundane. I mean until people are posting from their Strawberry strongly worded posts to the Daily Mail whilst relaxing by the methane seas of Titan that that bloody shuttle was delayed four hours and that Richard Branson (rev IV) had better get his tentacle out. And the in-flight meal was awful. And that the place ain’t the same now they built the Haven resort and it’s over-run with charvers from the asteroid belt.

  6. CountingCats says:

    So Prof de la Paz never influenced you? And you STILL became a libertarian? I am impressed.

    At least read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Methuselah’s Children and Time enough for Love. On top of that, if you like weird (and you do), All you Zombies, The Unpleasant Profession of Johnathan Hoag, By His Bootstraps and He built a Crooked House.

  7. CountingCats says:

    The Man Who Sold the Moon is probably a good idea as well. D. D. Harriman again, the prequel to Requiem. Written about ten years later.

    There were some weird books as well, Stranger being one of them.

    I bought Stranger and Glory Road on the same day, probably about the time Glory Road was first published. I was engrossed for days afterwards.

    There is a great scene in Destination Moon (screenplay – R A Heinlein) where one of the protagonists touts the superiority of the free market.

  8. NickM says:

    I sold my soul for Dick (despite his many flaws). Anyway and for (consider my age – 37) Gibson. I’m a libertarian because… That’s a post that is! And I don’t mean just me. 37 – two of my fave numbers. I have always had a thing for numbers and stuff. I’m very fucking far from normal. Perhaps that is why I believe in minimal tax (and such) but reckon the sky won’t fall if Anna and Stephanie tie the knot. But then I was taught by the best. Peter Mansfield and Stan Clough amongst them. They invented NMR scanners. There is a building o the min campus of Nottingham University that hums contently to itself and to us all (you have to check your bank cards at reception) when I had tutorials in there. Serious super-conducting magnets.

    Peter (I knew him well – terrible velcro shoes for a titan!) won the Nobel. Stan was, I guess, a bit too various. It happens. But by Gods five minutes with him was worth more than all the crap I “learned” at Ryton Comprehensive. He’d sit in his chair, close his eyes, and the physics would just come. I recall him on about Hamiltonian mechanics. I wrote a QBasic program on a variant of the Duffing equation that afternoon! And it displayed gloriously chaotic phase-space.

  9. David Davis says:

    We too saw them here in Southport. They come every year, it’s like a sort of calendar-milestone, the Red Arrows breaking out 500 feet about our house as they turn to go back in. You get three, four, sometimes five of them, all crossing the garden, inside ten seconds. Far too quick for today’s digital cams that need half a second to boot: one bang, a crack, the plane roars over, and it’s gone.

    But I bet the poor fellow loved every minute of it. Very sad he’s gone.

  10. MrsNick says:

    Not too fast for my camera! Sony Alpha SLT-55V – boots instantly and shoots 10fps. John Egging died doing what he loved. That is something. I wanted to do that (RAF – fast jets) but my peepers weren’t up to it. I guess flying fast jets to the limit it’s like this… Death comes with the territory. I’ve got a stream in my garden. Nice. Apart from when it floods. The last time that happened it was emotional. I only saw the aftermath. a 20kg rock propelled 15 metres and such. Wow.

  11. Paul Marks says:

    “The Man Who Sold The Moon” is brillient.

    And this sort of thing would have happened – had the government not “crowded out” civil society with its taxes, spending and regulations (and messed up montetary system.

    Time travel (if any of you ever get the chance) to California in about 1948 – when R. H. was in his prime and experiments (in all sorts of things) were happening every day.

    By the way, in spite of the vast overhang of debt from World War II, thanks to the so called “do nothing Congress” total government in the United States (including State and local governments) was still less than a quarter of civil society.

    In Britain at the same time government was about half of civil society (and it still is – the nationalized industries have shrunk, but government spending has grown).

    America back then (NOT NOW) was a totally different place from statist Britain – indeed it was a different world.

    A world that would have produced things like “The Man Who Sold The Moon”.

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