Cracker by Damian Christie

Flights of Destiny

Despite a reasonable amount of media attention, you could forgiven if you missed one of the major achievements in the history of space travel. Earlier this week, Monday to be precise, saw the first manned, privately funded flight into space. Probably the genesis of space tourism as we know it. Or just a really expensive experiment – time will tell.

I often pause and wonder why, in this year Two Thousand and Four of Our Lord, we don’t have robot dogs doing our laundry. Why we can’t survive on pills alone (although some weekends, let me tell you…); and why we don’t wear more tinfoil than we do. But most often, I wonder why we aren’t doing a lot more stuff in space.

So on this day, I’d like to say God Bless Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, for throwing some of the money he’s made from requiring millions of PC users to upgrade from one shoddily made product to the next, towards realising my childhood dream.

Despite the US$20 million sunk into the project, the send-off and welcome-home all looked remarkably low key. Allen and designer Burt Rutan stood around wearing a snazzy polo shirt and jeans ensemble, while some of the assembled crowd flourished giant foam pointing hands. Even the history-making craft was fairly unassuming; it’s name was SpaceShipOne.

Correction: It’s not unassuming, it’s actually an ugly name. Spaceship 1 would’ve been okay, but SpaceShipOne? I hate this relatively recent fad for putting capitals in the middle of words. It’s not big (okay, the capitals themselves are), and it certainly isn’t clever. Don’t even get me started on PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Nominal aesthetics aside, it was still a beautiful thing to behold. SpaceShipOne reached the edge of space, which surprisingly – to me at least – is only 100 kilometres away. That’s roughly Auckland to Huntly. Just between you and me, I’d rather drive into outer space. Stupid lack of vertical roads.

So what did pilot Mike Melvill, 62 years old and suddenly an astronaut, do when he got into zero gravity? Why he opened a packet of M&Ms of course. Dubious product placement opportunity aside, it raises a few questions. Like did they specifically make the ship M&M-proof beforehand? You wouldn’t want to try and land, only to find an M&M was stuck under the brakes. And what happened to a good PR person to write Melvill a few good lines? Instead we get:

"And they just spun around, like little sparkling things. And I was so blown away, I couldn't even fly the airplane.”

Not exactly Wordsworth. Although, Melvill’s description and subsequent inability to operate heavy machinery suggests he wasn’t just experimenting with Zero Gravity. But who can blame him? If there’s a list of good times to have fun with psychedelics, seeing earth from space for the first time would have to be in the top 10.

A few people wrote to ask how the 48 Hour Film competition went, and my answer would have to be “bloody well, thanks”. We drew musical/soap as our genre, which initially seemed like the worst of all possible outcomes. I’d made a few notes in advance about possible scenarios for each genre. Next to Soap I’d written an inspired “Ideas???”

As it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise. No cliched dialogue was too cheesy for the soft-focus American daytime soap style we embraced. No acting was too hammy. Mmm ham and cheese, good adjectives Damian. I think it must be getting near Time for a Little Something.

Long story short, our team had a fantastic time, it was a great bonding experience and I’m really pleased with our film. We got it in with 20 minutes to spare, and while improvements could have been made, we were definitely up there with the front-runners. We won audience favourite for our heat, but despite one of the judges telling me we were on his top 10 list, we didn’t make the finals. Kay Sarah, Sarah.

While opinions naturally differed about who should and shouldn’t have made the finals, it’s fair to say the winning film, by Team Classic (of the Classic Comedy Club) was clearly ahead of the pack.

But you can judge for yourself. Our short, called Flights of Destiny is up on The bigger versions take a while to load, but if your boss is paying for your bandwith, they're worth waiting a few minutes for.

Thanks sooo much to Ant Timpson – mate, you (and your tireless team) did yourselves proud, and thousands of people around Auckland and Wellington were smiling and laughing as a result of your hard work. Ngā mihi nui me te aroha nui.