The space program like so many other government sponsored programs will face inevitable budget cuts in the near future. The last flight of the space shuttle program left on July 8th. The idea of launching humans into space came about because political leadership took the initiative and set goals for our first space exploration. Having lived prior to and during the entire space program from Mercury capsule to the Space Shuttle Atlantis, I kept expecting bigger and better things as a natural progression of our gained knowledge through this cumlative experience.
I expected a little more than microwave ovens, flavored powder drinks and touch screen pen pad computers. Don’t get me wrong those are nice but when we watched or read science fiction, many of us expected the technology in 2001 Space Oddessy was within our grasp on the same timeline. Instead we are faced with the stark reality of budget restraints and a lack of leadership.
In some ways we have taken steps backward as a world society. We seem to be more caught up in ourselves and our expediencies than thinking about the long term consequences of our actions. I can’t help wonder if some of the great minds that might have emerged into this new century never made it because couples were more interested in ‘finding or liberating themselves’ rather than the more difficult work of being responsible, ethical and raising children. Who knows if another Einstein, Thomas Edison or Charles Drew might have been born?
Risk taking used to be part of our culture, now we want seemingly risk free living. We want to live longer and many are, but for what reasons? Clearly some of the material and technical progress which has been part of the last century should have allowed us to go further if we didn’t have to stop off along the way and create wars or behave in addictive self destruction. Although this isn’t the best example of science fiction, or acting, with apologies to Mr. Shatner, his speech seems to resonate with our frustratingly vague exploratory future. Risk is our Business
“Atlantis’ final flight will cap off an amazing 30-year program of exploration, which launched great observatories, built an International Space Station, and taught us how humans can live, work and thrive in space.” – NASA 2011 launch schedule.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
– John Masefield