By Graham Carter, 2008
We didn't know it at the time, but when Captain Kirk said he was boldly going where no man had gone before, he was talking about going to the toilet.
This much is now clear to me, following one of the most momentous weeks in the history of space exploration.
I was in my mother's womb when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and I was still there when Alan Shepard piloted a rocket called Freedom 7.
This was notable for two reasons. It was the first time an American had been into space, and the first time that anybody had gone to toilet on a spacecraft.
Shepard, apparently, had no option but to wet himself while waiting for hours on the launch pad, having discovered that NASA had neglected to provide a toilet.
Before I was out of short trousers, Neil Armstrong became not only the first man to walk on the moon, but probably the first to use the loo there.
Fast-forwarding to last week, the Phoenix Lander has been making discoveries that turned the possibility of finding water on Mars into a probability - with all the implications this could have for finding life.
And, closer to home - but still more than 200 miles above our heads - the newly launched Space Shuttle Discovery holds so much fascination for me that I stayed up until 1am on Sunday morning to watch NASA TV on the internet, where they were covering Mission Control's handling of a 55-second burn of the engine to put it on course to rendezvous with the International Space Station. Absolutely rivetting.
This anorak level of interest has sadly not been inherited by the younger generation, it seems.
Whenever I go all starry eyed - in more ways than one - and start telling my kids about such things, they roll their eyes and say I'm sad.
Judging by the coverage of space matters this week, the media thinks so too.
Despite all the other excitement, by far the biggest space story to break was all about the toilets getting broken on the International Space Station.
I'm convinced the only reason the BBC covered the Space Shuttle launch at all was so they could report that it would be carrying spares so that astronauts can carry out emergency repairs to the lav.
This ties in with my experience of visiting the National Space Centre in Leicester, last year, when I noticed the display case with easily the largest crowd of kids gathered around it was not the one with actual Apollo artefacts or even the moon rock, but the one with the genuine space toilet.
Still, I am determined to get to the bottom of space exploration in an altogether different way this summer, when we head for a holiday in Florida.
As our visit to Kennedy Space Center coincides with my birthday, I am treating myself to a special Lunch with an Astronaut event.
The astronaut in question is a certain Bill Pogue.
I know him as the pilot of Skylab 4.
To most other people he is the author of a book called How Do You Go To The Bathroom in Space?
This was my weekly column in the Swindon Advertiser on June 3, 2008.
Return to main Words page