The first of this year’s Odyssey Special Editions is dedicated to a man who spent much of his life in space, even though he never left the Earth.
I don’t know if Patrick Moore ever saw Silent Running, though I’d like to think he did. But he did know about and admire the work of Ralph Smith, and it seems highly likely that the two knew each other through the BIS. Ralph was Chairman of the Society in 1956 and 1957. Spaceflight magazine saw its first issue in October 1956 under the then editorship of Patrick; so circumstance suggests they must have met. However, Ralph’s health was failing by that time and Ken Gatland took over Spaceflight in 1959 when Patrick went off to take the helm at The Sky at Night.
In the Spring 2012 Odyssey Special Edition: From the Earth to the Moon in a BIS Spaceship, Patrick had this to say about Ralph: “Ralph Smith was an early pioneer of spaceflight; a man with great technical knowledge and great photographic ability. His drawings of spacecraft, made at the time, are remarkably similar to the real-life Apollos.” And it’s Ralph’s drawings that feature again in this latest Special Edition, depicting a vision of life in space that remains remarkably accurate. Indeed, one of his paintings almost seems to prefigure the gardens-in-space so dramatically portrayed in Silent Running.
Mention Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 movie to most people who have seen the film and their first thought is probably of the great domes, the huge greenhouses, which shelter what’s left of the Earth’s ecosystems. If I had to preserve one corner of England beneath those domes, I couldn’t think of a better place to preserve than Farthings and its surroundings gardens, a location that will be familiar to anyone who has watched The Sky at Night over the years. I had the enormous privilege of visiting Patrick at his home on a number of occasions and was always struck by how peaceful those gardens were, by how far removed they seemed to be from the cacophony of everyday life. They were a sanctuary of sorts, both for Patrick and his many visitors.
Patrick was as much a celestial navigator as he was an astronomer, mapping out the night sky and tracing a route through the constellations for all of us. Perhaps somewhere along that route the Valley Forge can still be found, silently protecting her precious cargo.
Whether that’s true or not, this one’s for you, Patrick…and for stargazers everywhere.
Mark Stewart, FBIS
BIS Honorary Archival Librarian/Editor (Odyssey)