Space exploration

Anthropomorphizing Spirit

This morning,  I  was telling Sally about an xkcd cartoon where the Spirit rover is doing its  work on Mars,  counting down the days until its mission is over. The rover is seen thinking about the day when it can come home, then starts to question what it did wrong as the days and months pass. Eventually, humans return to Mars, long after Spirit had "died".


The Future That Is Now

Image of Supercar, from the Wikipedia entry on the kids' show by that name.This is the future, and we're living it now. But . . . 

What you are about to read is a follow up to my earlier post surrounding Neil deGrass Tyson's "How much would you pay for the Universe?" video. Many of us really do live in what, as a child, I would have imagined as a pretty cool world, even if I didn't have a flying car. Speaking of flying cars, as a private pilot, I can honestly say that until self-driving cars (self-flying?) are mandated by law, I'm really kind of glad that flying cars aren't everywhere.

However, as cool as my world of computers and gadgets and Higgs bosons and deciphered genomes and etc, etc, etc is, I miss our collective thirst for adventure. We're more about gadgets than discovery. I had my first computer back in the late 70s and progressed through the school's IBM mainframe to my Commodore Pet, TRS-80, Vic20, Commodore 64, IBM PC, and PCs of many incarnations to my current collection of notebooks, tablets, ebook readers, and smartphones, scattered about my house and car so I can look something up from whatever room I happen to be in.

I love all that stuff. I have a Wii, a PS3, and I had an Atari 2600 as well as one of the original Pong consoles.

But it's all just faster, shinier, and (lucky for me) progressively cheaper tech incarnations of the same old ideas. We, as a species, seem to be pushing inwards and using up what we have here rather than reaching out. Space exploration takes a kind of wild thirst for adventure that we collectively seem to be missing. We're stagnant, waiting to see how much thinner or faster the next iWhatever will be.  And we're not just stagnant, we've become timid and insular as a species, looking to the next financial quarter rather than the next quarter century.

There's a very real anti-science movement out there, fueled by fundamentalists of all stripes. Stupidity and ignorance expressed in 15 second sound-bites is rewarded while scientists and secularists are viewed with disdain and distrust. You can say, "This [ insert project here ] is an affront to God. What we need is more people in pews and less wasted dollars on science." in 15 seconds. Explaining the benefits of space exploration takes a little more time.

I want to see us break through all that, forging ahead despite these negative pressures, but research and exploration on a grand scale requires a massive buy-in from the public. Sure, these may just be the "Dim Ages" (as opposed to the Dark Ages) and we may come out of this in another hundred or two-hundred years, but I don't want to wait that long. I want to know we can do it again (walk on other worlds) and I want my children to experience that sense of wonder and excitement, just as I did.

On July 20, 1969, when I was only nine years old, humans landed on the moon. Human beings boarded a rocket and flew more than 340,000 kilometers to another world! We were pushing the boundaries of our tiny planet and reaching out, however tentatively, to the stars. Right now, in 2012, my oldest son in 8 years old and NASA doesn't even have its own reusable spacecraft. The moon seems as far away as it ever did, and as excited as I am about Curiosity's landing on Mars, we haven't progressed beyond simple rovers. 

We used to be a people poised on the edge of space and now we're Earthbound, tied down by our petty wars and small imaginations. I want a world where my sons can share in the wonder of exploring worlds beyond this one, of reaching out into the universe . . . just a little father than the generation before mine did, more than 40 years ago. 
Back then, we stretched our wings and tugged at starlight. How did our dreams become so small?

I've never stopped dreaming.


NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain

Awe-inspiring . . . spectacular . . . glorious! Let's see where Curiosity will take us.


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