So there I was, all ready to write a nice pedestrian little academic piece about hats and then I was told a Russian space probe might land on me at any moment.
This reads a little like a sci-fairy tale: for its central character is the Phobus Grunt.
They threw a celestial stick for the Grunt back in November and it charged off into space in hot pursuit, reaching a ‘parking orbit’ at about 375km above earth to catch its breath and wag its little grunty tail before haring off into deep space and Mars, to eat the red planet’s moon rocks.
But anyone who looks at the Grunt’s girth knows it has been fed a little too much. It is a squat little probe weighing some 13 tonnes, and it needs some fearsome engine power to squeeze it through our atmosphere. There was some heaving to be done of the Grunt’s bottom.
Two heaves, actually: the first, lasting eleven and a half minutes, would haul the affable Grunt to 4,000km for a four-hour look at the earth from space; the second haul would position him squarely on a path for Mars which even a portly Grunt could follow.
But alas: the process of winching the little Russian probe into deep space was flawed.
The engines failed to fire; and without sufficient energy to send him out on his way, the Grunt has been faffing about in space waiting for stuff to happen.
All communication with the Grunt has failed, and he cannot hear his owners gabbling in dismayed Russian down there on the surface: “Grunt….this way! Grunt! Will you put the stick down and leave the other satellites alone and COME. HERE!!!”
Instead, like many of us terrestrial dog owners, there is nothing for it but to watch the Grunt’s trajectory as it plummets with abandon towards earth.
The Grunt has attracted huge audiences. Everyone who is anyone and some people who aren’t anyone are tracking the Russian probe and trying to predict where it will land.
It is a sad fact that the Grunt will not survive re-entry. Its portly little frame will explode in a firework display which will light up the sky, as 10 tonnes of fuel goes up in smoke, and then large shards of the 2.5 tonnes of hardware will drop like a stone, who knows where.
The reporters of the news networks are having a field day. And this morning Phil informed me that tomorrow a Russian space probe might land on me.
His source was not the BBC but SKY News, whose headline read “Spacecraft could crash on M4 Corridor.”
Occasionally, our news makers betray the fact that we are in fact a very small set of islands. While some would read only the first few paragraphs and go about customising their Land Rovers to withstand the weight of shards of space debris, further investigation revealed: “Chief engineer at the UK Space Agency, Professor Richard Crowther said it is expected to explode as it enters the atmosphere, scattering debris along a 200km track – anywhere between the M4 corridor and the Falkland Islands.”
So: the chances of the Grunt ending up on top of Ascot or Maidenhead or Windsor Castle are slimmer than it ever was.