The first V2 to hit London fell on Staveley Road, Chiswick, on the evening of Friday, 8 September 1944. There was a small gathering to commemorate the 75th anniversary at the site last Sunday. Unlike the V1s, which you could hear coming with the buzzing of their pulsejet engine – Iris Murdoch described watching them ‘tottering past the window’ – V2s gave no warning at all. Fired from continental Europe and tracing out a parabola into space, they fell at supersonic speed from at least fifty miles up.
When Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was looking to name the site where the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars in August, ‘Bradbury Landing’ must have been an obvious choice. Ray Bradbury, who died in June, was a regular visitor to JPL. He wrote his first Martian stories in Los Angeles just a few months after the lab was founded in Pasadena in 1943. As a teenager in 1939, he had attended a meeting of the LA Science Fiction Society where he listened to the self-taught rocketeer Jack Parsons, one of the leading lights of the group that would become JPL. A devotee of Alesteir Crowley, Parsons carried out experiments in ceremonial sex magic as well as solid-fuel rocketry. He was killed in 1952 when he dropped a coffee can with mercury fulminate in it, blowing up his house. There’s an impact crater named after him on the dark side of the Moon.