In this week, in this month, in 1972, Apollo 18 was meant to launch. It never did, due to budget cuts under Nixon’s administration, but also because Apollo 13 cast a long shadow over future space missions. As the closest shave in NASA’s history, Apollo 13 made the dangers of space exploration apparent to captivated worldwide audiences; so apparent that they could not be ignored. Better to spend the money on the Vietnam War than risk American lives in the cosmic void.
I can sympathise. I experience my own version of Apollo 13 every Fourth Week of term. As JFK famously said, we do not book Black Tie Formal because it is easy, but because it is hard.
Mission launch is 4.30pm, Thursday. (This doesn’t correspond with Apollo 13 – I can only make this comparison so believable). Weather is good. Wind is low. No sign of rain. T-minus 3, 2, 1. Initial launch is successful. Formal booking website loads successfully, and login details are correct. So far, so good.
Suddenly, an external oxygen canister explodes/login stalls under the weight of college traffic. Shit hits the fan. Houston, we have a problem. The damage is catastrophic and chances of survival are dropping by the minute. Quick, shut it down, shut it all down! Turn off your internets, your Snapchats, your Buzzfeeds. If the Russians can shut off radio frequencies to avoid interfering with Apollo’s transmissions, you can stop clogging up the internet with all of your duck face pics – I want fucking Oreo cake.
There’s only one chance of getting back/ back in alive, and it’s hella risky. It’s not as risky as building a makeshift carbon dioxide filter in space, but it’s as brave; log back out and back in. There’s only limited voltage (laptop battery is low). We have to give it a go, failure is not an option. Cut to montage of prayers being said, pained expression on family members’ faces, visible clouds of baited breath. A long, ominous radio silence. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Odyssey, this is Houston, do you read?
Hello Oliver, this is the Merton Formal Booking System, it’s good to see you again. YYYYYYEEEEESSSSS. My meal booking splashes down just like the Odyssey module did into the Pacific. It’s a perilous business, this formal booking malarkey. But God, it’s exciting.