“I started out as a child” – William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed.D.
I have been ruined by the timing of my childhood. Grew up with the space race; 3 years old when Sputnik launched, 7 when Gagarin and Shepard flew and JFK promised the moon, allowed to stay up late to watch if Ranger or Surveyor were going to be successful, watched Gemini through grade school, Apollo through High School, and somewhere in between read a host of science fiction stories.
SF definitely ruined my life; captivated as I was at an impressionable age by Asimov, Clark, Heinlein, and so very many others. Watched “Destination Moon” a thousand times along with every other B grade SF movie ever made. Then, of course, came Star Trek. After that show went off prime time network programming, one of the local TV stations in my area showed reruns every night. So I watched Star Trek reruns every night – every night! – all through high school. There was a time I could quote the dialog from any episode verbatim. My social life suffered accordingly.
Read about Goddard in his tree reading War of the Worlds and deciding to find a way to go to space. “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
Long after he was dead, JFK’s speeches were the proof text for the future. Space – its exploration and exploitation – was the future. I read and re-read the works of Gerard K. O’Neill and believed. I had no doubt. It was our Manifest Destiny to explore space.
One of my middle school friends proclaimed in about 1967 that we would never reach the moon, it was impossible. Somehow he and I lost touch over the years but I expect he has become one of those fringe types who believe Apollo 11 was filmed on some sound stage in Arizona. I reveled in the fact that he was wrong.
Both fact and fiction pointed to an inevitable future.
Somehow it hasn’t quite worked out as expected.
2001 came and went without lunar bases, without any excavation of black obelisks in Tycho, without manned spaceships heading out to Jupiter or Saturn. I suspect that Zefram Cockrane wasn’t born last year, and I fear that warp drive might just not be possible in the universe we inhabit.
What happened to those flying cars which we should have by now? At least we should have the hover board. But no.
In a year when one’s birthday ends in a zero, brooding comes easily. Thinking about how there is more runway behind than ahead. Wondering if a career’s worth of work and worry were well invested or wasted. Wondering when – or if – the promise will come true.
It becomes easy to fall into cynicism, to write the whole thing off as a stunt. A one-time geopolitical ploy rooted in a particular time and policy made for reasons which no longer exist. Leaving us with the rump vestige of a dream which lives on merely to siphon off public money into some sort of jobs program. Something which exists merely to exist.
Hardnosed taxpayers want to know what they are going to get for their money. Spending billions to plant a flag on some distant point in the universe merely for prestige does not constitute a business case which shows a return on investment. They insist that the ISS better come up with something more important than videos of astronauts in zero G chasing water globules around with straws.
Space travel could just be a pipe dream. Something like believing in fairies or unicorns. Something for children which adults dismiss.
Certainly makes it hard to listen to idealistic pronouncements of ‘horizon goals’ and the inevitability of our future in space.
Ok then, shut ‘er down, put the pieces in a museum, and tell kids to study finance and marketing because that’s where the big money lies. Gordon Gekko was right after all: get filthy rich by any means necessary, win every contest by any means available. That’s what counts. That’s all that counts.
But you know . . .
Pessimism never improved the human condition. Cynics never accomplished anything positive. Real and lasting satisfaction only comes when heart and strength are given to something bigger than yourself.
Roddenberry showed us the future could be better than the present. Heinlein really got it right; it’s not about money. It’s about freedom, achievement, and the joy that comes from accomplishing something hard and worthwhile. There has to be meaning in life or it is not worth living.
Those who go forth into the world – into the universe – have at least the chance to succeed. Those who stay home in fear or greed inexorably fall into stagnation, into dissolution, decay, and finally destruction. Grow or die, that is the law of the universe.
So what if the timeline runs a little longer than we expected? Does that mean we stay home, let the cynics run the world, and wait for Malthus to say ‘I told you so’?
Today we are chasing our tails because the space experts debate destinations: Moon, Mars, or asteroid? O’Neill and I say do them all. The ‘horizon goal’ isn’t Mars, it is the entire solar system. When we have built colonies on every habitable niche, then maybe we will find a way to go to the stars.
I didn’t say bankrupt the treasury. Don’t squander other people’s money; figure out how to do it anyway.
Nobody said that it would be easy. But what is our choice?
It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.
It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near.
And I will see my dream come alive at last. I will touch the sky.
And they’re not gonna hold me down no more, no they’re not gonna change my mind.
— ‘Where My heart Will Take Me’ written by Diane Warren