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Space School UK: Matra Marconi

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The magical invisible Lunar eclipse

Sorry for the non-Space School stuff there. But it had to be said.

Let's see, it's Day 3, Wednesday, now. My group went to Matra Marconi at Stevenage. As usual, we had to wait ages to get inside. As usual, the following comments were made while we waited.

'Ah, so we're here now. You see, all it said on the programme was that we would visit Matra Marconi, and technically that's what we've done. So we get to go home now.'

'I know what! Why don't we go and storm them? I bet they've got a load of weapons and ammo lying around inside.'

'Did you know that there's probably a nuclear silo beneath our feet right at this moment?'

Then an old woman came out as one of the tour guides.

'You see, they send their most senior and respected representative out to meet us.'

'Right, she's probably just some old woman they picked up who was wandering around outside. I can see it now, she's going to pick up a piece of metal and say 'This here's an exhaust.'

Unfortunately, our fun was cut short when my half of the group got to watch an absolutely enthralling presentation about the business structure of Matra Marconi and GEC. It's what I came to Space School for.

I was being sarcastic, by the way.

Then we got a nice tour of the facilities which was fun-ish. Not much to say about that, except for the fact that we got to have lunch early. That's actually more important than it sounds, because I heard terrible rumours that people who came to lunch later got such atrocities as brussel sprouts forced upon them. There is no greater evil. People were complaining about the aftertaste days later. I bet they're still washing out their mouths right now.

As we all know, we had to design a satellite out of cardboard and foil which would contain an egg payload. This was a good idea for an activity, but they made it a little stupid. First, there were masses of calculations to be done, which were a waste of time, frankly. You had to calculate propulsion costs, materials costs, solar cell battery lifetimes and more.

All of this wasn't helped by a member of my group being absolutely mental during the afternoon. We gave her the task of coating the egg in masses of sellotape, but even so, every minute or two we'd hear screeches and shouts from her about various things. Exasperated glances abounded. I am told by a reliable source that she's not always like that. Not always.

Again, my team didn't win. We was robbed. I can guarantee you that we were one of the few people who actually worked out their calculations properly. Some group ended up with a satellite that was cheaper than the payload it was carrying, which was strange because you had to include the payload cost in the total cost. Evidently they'd got the satellite sponsored so they could reduce their cost.

Still, it wasn't much of a loss. All the winners got was a Matra Marconi brochure, which you can probably pick up for free.

We got back. There was a fairly interesting talk by an Isaac Newton impersonator, but the less said of that, the better. The only thing I remember about it was the bit with the Newton's Cradle demonstration.

'If I drop one ball, another ball comes out from the other side. If I drop two balls, two balls will come out from the other side. So what happens if I drop three balls, hmm?' he says, leering at a girl whose name I will not mention for fear of my death.

'Um. Three. No, two.'

It was three, but Sir Isaac made a huge deal about this unfortunate girl's mishap. Little did he know that she will remember her shame to the end of her days ('cos on Thursday, we had someone else show us a Newton's Cradle. There I was, minding my own business, and then this girl goes and shouts 'Shut up!' to me. According to her, I'd said something like 'What? Three balls, or two?' That's slander, that is. I would never say such a thing. Honest.)


5/9/99: Another interesting fact I learned from Tak during the Space School Cornwall Eclipse trip was an explanation of his rampant apple throwing during the Newton lecture. Okay, it was only one apple, but that's not the point.

Since it was a lecture by a Newton impersonator, you'd think that the guy would mention the old 'apple falling onto my head - bing - gravity' story. Tak, that cunning man, had saved an apple for the express purpose of throwing it at the bloke when he mentioned the story - indeed, it would've probably got a good laugh.

Unfortunately, against all odds, the impersonator didn't mention the apple story. So Tak just had to throw it at him during the questions period. Those wacky Japanese, eh?


Wednesday was memorable for another reason. We were told by the Orbital Mechanics people, whom we thought knew their stuff, that there would be a Lunar Eclipse at 10 PM.

'It's when the Moon goes all weird and red,' I was told. O-kay.

10 PM. No eclipse.
11 PM. No eclipse.
12 PM. No eclipse.

'I see a pattern emerging here, don't you, Watson?' ('No shit, Sherlock,' mumbled Watson, under his breath).

There was a Lunar Eclipse. In America.

We did have some fun. There was a hapless individual who let himself be violated by girls contorting his hair to all sorts of wild shapes with hairspray. Never would I lower myself to be degraded in such a way, but this guy was enjoying it, of all things. We all know that he was only doing it because he wanted to get into <fuzzy static> pants. Whether he did or not, I don't know. Who cares?

Another interesting this. Sabah, the man, gave us all these immensely cool toys which fold into an infinite number of shapes (not really) about the place where he works, the Babar particle accelerator.

Let's see. It's part five, and I'm just finishing Wednesday. What else is there to talk about, apart from Thursday and Friday? There is the matter of the disproportionately large number of 'weird people' who came to Space School, upon which I will comment at length in part six. Until then...


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