Who we will always be

An image from Yuri Shwedoff's 'Space' series. Credit: Yuri Shwedoff

I found this evocative image on Twitter today. It’s by a Russian artist named Yuri Shwedoff and the image is part of his ‘Space Series’, available to view and appreciate on Behance. I don’t know the provenance of the overlaid text though.

At a glance, it’s clear the image depicts a future where we’ve abandoned all space launches and have regressed to a more primitive form of life.

But then you realise the last NASA Space Shuttle launch was in July 2011. Perhaps some kind of Space Shuttle museum became abandoned as the world carried on? Doesn’t seem likely – the artist probably chose to depict the Space Shuttle because everyone recognises it.

Further, the rectangular beam-like structure below the Space Shuttle indicates the location is the Kennedy Space Centre Launch Complex 39A.

Another interesting feature is that the fuel tanks of earlier rockets had thinner walls than they do today, so the tank could be erected to an upright position only after being loaded with fuel and pressurised. So in this image, the Space Shuttle was ready for launch, and not just standing there waiting to be prepared for launch.

The crenellated mounds of earth and flora also suggest the 39A launchpad, with the rocket on it, has been abandoned for many centuries.

The weather is also curious because launchpads are usually located at sites above which there is often clear sky. But in this image, the sky is overcast. It could just be a rainy day – or it could be that the world has experienced some kind of catastrophe that has either precipitated weird weather patterns or, in the more dystopian view, clouded all of Earth á la a nuclear holocaust.

The greater catastrophe would also explain the primitive nature of technology in the image, in the form of a human riding horseback with what seems like arrows strapped to his back. The text, “It’s who we were…”, also suggests the same thing.

In all, the artist seems to say that in the early 21st century, something happened that caused us to abandon space launches, altered the world’s weather and, in time, left us technologically backward.

This is why I think the image is a bit confused. Gazing up at a Space Shuttle on the launchpad and saying “It’s who we were…” says nothing at all because, in a world with frequent spacefaring missions, something happened anyway. Our ambitions unto the final frontier didn’t change anything.

If anything, this accidental monument should’ve been for the now-hollow nuclear missile launch silo, or in fact a statue of a human itself.

Alternatively, I’d replace “It’s who we were…”, and its inherent sense of pride and longing, with a phrase that evokes shame and regret: “It’s who we will always be”.

(The original image by Shwedoff doesn’t have the text, so whoever put it on there has effectively defaced the image.)