The Third Leader: Space oddities

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The Independent Online

Beep, beep. It's 50 years today since Sputnik became the planet's first artificial satellite (we should probably discount those who argue that the moon, given its exact positioning and necessity for our existence, was placed there by entity or entities unknown).

Traditionally in these cases, there is a search for telling contemporary comparisons; 1957 is rich in them. We must nod to Suez, twinned with the equally embarrassing bravado of the explosion of the first British hydrogen bombs. I prefer the US Army's sale of its last carrier pigeons, the arrival of the Frisbee, and the launch into the heavens of Vatican Radio.

It was in 1957, too, that the people of Tulsa, Oklahoma, buried a Plymouth Belvedere in concrete capable of withstanding a nuclear explosion so that it could be dug up in 2007 to show what the past was like.

When they dug the car up, in June, they found that water had seeped in and destroyed the flags and the statements from former mayors of Tulsa and the rest, leaving only a rusted hulk, some petrol and some cans of Schlitz: a Plymouth Yorick.

But, lest we be too melancholy, and before we mark next month's Sputnik 2 and the sad end of Laika the dog, there is better news from up there: an asteroid has been named after George Takei, Mr Sulu in Star Trek.

This is especially pleasing for me, as, in 1977, when he was attending a convention in Liverpool, I saved him from being run over as he was boldy crossing Lime Street, which would not have been a fitting end. Beep, beep.