Our easyJet Airbus 319 blasted off from Luton aerodrome pretty much on schedule at 07:30 this morning, bound for Alicante. Our 2½-hour flight was blissfully uneventful and we touched down on Spanish terra firma [firma is Spanish for signature, BTW – completely irrelevant but I thought you’d like to know] at about 11:00 AM.
We’d have been taxiing towards the terminal at about the same time as astronaut Tim Peake and his colleagues were successfully blasting off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in their Soyuz rocket, bound for a rendez-vous with the International Space Station. I spotted that Tim Peake was described as “our first official astronaut”, which left me wondering what on earth an unofficial astronaut might have been. Curious. Also, what on earth seems like a completely inappropriate phrase where astronauts are concerned since they are decidedly off earth. So, rephrasing, what off earth is an unofficial astronaut? Anyway, happily the space flight went smoothly and the Soyuz approached the ISS after about 6 hours.
After the six hours, it is reported that going smoothly was put on hold as the Soyuz’s automated docking system failed. I don’t do science fiction but here was a chance to use one of my very favourite phrases from that genre. I seem to remember it being used during Luke Skywalker’s attack on the Death Star when, clearly, computer systems couldn’t be trusted and the force had to be with him: “switching to manual”. So, eyes closed, bombs away, a perfect parabola straight down the miniscule vent and, boom! – up went the Death Star. An appropriate memory given the latest box office bonanza. Nice one, Luke! It’s a phase that’s probably been used countless times in Star Trek, too. Clearly, the writers of such tosh are familiar with some of the computer programmers I’ve known. Would you put a life and death situation in their hands hoping that they’d found all their bugs? No, nor would I. So, the Soyuz’s docking system had failed and commander Yuri Malenchenko switched to manual to successfully dock it with the ISS. [Well, I did mention Star Trek so a split infinitive is expected.] Well done Yuri!
Six hours earlier, back on earth, we’d encountered Alicante’s latest immigration “advance” for the second time. Fortunately, this time our easyJet flight appeared to be the only one recently arrived but nonetheless, there was still a lengthy queue wedged up against the accursed automatic passport scanning machines. The length of the queue would not have been distressing had it been moving. It wasn’t. A warm body stood at the side manually checking those without electronic passports and families with children. All these people entered Spain quickly and easily and were soon disappearing from sight to continue their onward journeys. The rest of us weren’t that lucky. Frustration levels within the queue were increasing as our movement didn’t. Automated passport machines are a complete disaster.
Evidently the lone immigration official, his nominated charges already well on their way, also apparently became frustrated with the failure of the computer-based system to process the arriving tourists. “Switching to manual!” He began manually checking some of the electronic passports. Good decision. We made our way over to him as quickly as we could.
I bet Tim Peake didn’t have a passport delay getting into the ISS.