Ivory Tower: boldly going where no science superpower has gone before
Previously on Brits in Space
“We’ve been looking at the spreadsheet and Jeremy and I have decided to pull funding from the national space programme. Budget was a bit “astronomical”… “not sure how you are getting back…”
Star date 30 October 2023
“Europe will have a base on the moon in the future, with the first infrastructure being in place within a decade, according to the head of the European Space Agency,” Research Professional News reports.
Star date 3 November 2024
Somewhere near the Sea of Tranquility.
A figure in a space suit with a Union Jack and the initials GF on the arm knocks on the door of an airlock of a lunar base. The intercom crackles.
Astronaut: Err… gosh wasn’t expecting that.
Astronaut: Err… bonjour? Well, hello. Do you speak English?
Voice: Yes, very well, in fact. How can I help you?
Astronaut: Well, our deep space, scientific research craft GBSS Free Enterprise ran out of fuel, and we sort of landed, crash landed really. Anyway, we were wondering if…
Voice: Did you not fill up at the garage?
Astronaut: It’s the cuts you see, bit of a long story.
Voice: That is most unfortunate. Very imprudent to come to the moon without sufficient fuel to get you home, no?
Astronaut: Perhaps. We were wondering if you had any…
Voice: You would like that we “lend” you the fuel?
Astronaut: No, not quite.
Voice: You would like to buy? We offer a full lunar breakdown recovery service. Perhaps you would like to receive a quotation?
Astronaut: No, I just wanted to ask if you had any milk?
Astronaut: Yes, milk. How do you say in French, lait? De la vache? Moo moo?
Voice: You are mistaken. In France a cow says “meuh”.
Astronaut: No, it doesn’t. What kind of a cow says “meuh”?
Voice: Why is it you are wanting the milk?
Astronaut: For tea. I know the French don’t understand tea.
Voice: We occupied most of Indochina for 150 years. I assure you we understand tea very well. But unlike you English we have not based our entire culture on drinking a little cup of brown sadness.
Astronaut: Typical… [mumbles inaudibly].
Voice: We have the milk. Do you want it or no?
Voice: That will be 50 euros.
Astronaut: 50 euros?
Voice: Unless you were going to “borrow” it and bring it back with the petrol.
Astronaut: But 50 euros for a pint of milk? They weren’t lying when they said there were huge commercial opportunities in space.
Voice: 50 euros a litre.
Astronaut: How many pints are in a litre?
Voice: I have no idea.
Astronaut: Let me think. You times by one and a half, then divide by 12… err… give me a moment.
Voice: With regret, I have research tasks to do. I cannot stand here all day.
Astronaut: Yes, very well.
[The doors of the airlock open. The astronaut enters and moves through the chamber into the bright space of the well-resourced command module. He takes off his helmet and looks around.]
Euronaut: Voila monsieur, one litre of milk.
Astronaut: I don’t suppose you have bread in space?
Euronaut: Of course.
Astronaut: Maybe just a baguette, please.
Euronaut: One or two?
Astronaut: How much are they?
Euronaut: 50 euros.
Astronaut: Maybe just the one then.
Euronaut: Very good, would you like it wrapped or will you be carrying it back to your spaceship like this?
Astronaut: Where did you get all this stuff? It is like a delicatessen in here.
Euronaut: We have a selection of foods given Protected Geographical Indication from all EU Member States. The exact amounts we brought are based on juste retour.
Astronaut: You have salami? I’ve been eating dried hotpot out of a foil bag for weeks.
Euronaut: Perhaps you would like that too? For a charge?
Astronaut: No, just the milk and bread please.
Euronaut: Une baguette, une litre du lait… that will be 100 euros.
Astronaut: Maybe you could knock it off our Horizon contributions.
[The Euronaut shakes his head sadly.]
Astronaut: Let me call my commander.
[He uses a communications device on the sleeve of his spacesuit.]
Astronaut: Hello, Free Enterprise? This is space lieutenant Freeman.
Voice: Wait a minute, the reception is very bad, can you hold the communicator away from you? Too much interference from your suit’s biosensors.
Astronaut: I knew we shouldn’t have given that contract to Michelle Mone… is that better?
Voice: No, now I can actually hear you.
Astronaut: Look, I need to approve some expenditure.
Voice: George, is that you? Where have you been? You’ve been gone for hours.
Astronaut: I’ve found some milk and bread but need to pay for it.
Voice: You’ll need to speak to Captain Donelan. Hold on, I’ll put her on.
Donelan: Is that you, George? Where have you been? You’ve been gone for hours.
George: I’m in the European Union’s lunar base. They’ve got salami and tarte des pommes, and a recovery service.
Donelan: Salami? What are you talking about, George? Come back here at once.
George: I need you to transfer 100 euros for the bread and milk.
Donelan: 100 euros? What are you doing, making a giant bread and butter pudding?
George: Michelle, we are low on supplies and…
Donelan: I’m not paying the European Union 100 euros for a loaf…
Euronaut: A baguette, madame.
Donelan: For a bleeding baguette and a pint of milk.
George: A litre.
Donelan: Litre? Get back here immediately. You’ve obviously been affected by the European mind virus.
George: I just wanted some milk in my tea.
Donelan: We’re British. Remember the Blitz Spirit. Churchill didn’t have milk on his cornflakes in the morning.
George: No, he had whiskey.
Donelan: Besides, Shapps has found a tin of Marvel in the storeroom. You can have that while we watch EastEnders tonight. Now, get back here, you’ll miss the live broadcast of my speech about artificial intelligence to a primary class in Bolton [she signs off].
George: Well, I suppose it’s better than no intelligence.
Euronaut: You have a problem with payment?
George: Maybe, I’ve got some sterling in a pocket. Let me just wriggle around in this thing and see if I can find… oh, hold on, what’s this?
Euronaut: You have the money?
George [sheepishly]: Actually no, it’s my Irish passport. I discovered some roots there recently and got it as…err… a backup.
Euronaut: You are Irish now?
George: I can be, if it helps.
Euronaut: That changes everything. Do come in and take off your most unfashionable spacesuit. I will prepare you a platter of fruits de mer with a cold Chablis while you shower and slip into one of our extra fluffy European Union bath robes.
George: But what about EastEnders?
Euronaut: We have a boxset to watch this evening and our chef is preparing his famous osso buco. What do you say to that, George?
Euronaut: Would you like full, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk in your tea? Or perhaps, the milk of the chèvre?
George: You have goat’s milk?
Euronaut: Bien sûr, bien sûr.