Iceland in Space!
Most small nations have very little to do with the endless realms of space. After all, running a space programme is not cheap-as-chips and small populations make it statistically less likely NASA will pick them to be flung off the planet. Iceland is a conspicuous exception to this rule, however…
We could hardly discuss this topic without bringing up the very well-known story about Neil Armstrong and the Icelandic moon, so we might as well do it right at the top: NASA actually sent the Apollo 11 crew, including Mr Armstrong, to train for the moon in Iceland because (a part of) it was the most moonlike place they could imagine on Earth. It’s a pretty cool story, and the photos of them enjoying the country and even kicking back with the Prime Minister are worth a look.
But Neil is not our only claim to space stardom. There has already been an Icelander in space, another confirmed to go soon, and two more are trying their best to get there right now (no, they are not climbing very tall ladders).
In 1997, Iceland-born astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason spent 12 days in space as part of his highly successful NASA career, wearing a Canadian flag on his sleeve. He considers Vancouver his hometown, but Iceland will not let him go that easily.
Then there is Gísli Gíslason who will be among the space tourists aboard Virgin Galactic’s first space flight in the next year or three. The successful businessman says he signed up with fingers crossed as soon as he heard of Virgin’s lofty ambition “years ago”.
Sumarliði Þorsteinsson is trying to win a competition to go into space on Sweden’s behalf, and you can vote to help him. He is currently in the lead (at the time of writing). Nanna Gunnarsdóttir is participating in the British branch of the same competition and your votes could make her the first Icelandic woman in space. Neither is able to compete for Iceland because it is not an eligible country in that particular competition. Possibly because the deodorant in question only recently went on sale in the country(?)
Some 400,000 people live, work and play in the far reaches of space, thanks to the Icelandic online computer game EVE Online – and although it is not real space, the game creators and players are pushing the boundaries in a very real way and exploring new frontiers of gameplay. It’s like Nerd NASA in many ways.
But most interesting of all are probably the bits of space named after Iceland. These include the craters of Vík, Reykholt and Grindavík on the planet Mars, and the craters Sveinsdóttir and Snorri on Mercury.
Mercury craters are named after dead artists who are still famous for their particular art form 50 years after they died. Strange but true. Sveinsdóttir is named after Júlíana Sveinsdóttir (painter, 1889–1966) and Snorri is in celebration of Snorri Sturluson (poet, politician and historian, 1179 –1241).
To infinity and beyond!