Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We're not looking at the stars . . .

We just finished a successful mission to repair and refurbish the Hubble Telescope, releasing it this morning after the very last time human hands will ever touch it. We performed five long space walks. We even had the Mission Commander tweet as they launched, and they are blogging about the mission continuously. Atlantis will land back on earth soon, and STS-125 will be over. And hardly anyone will be paying any attention.

At some point after the first men landed on the moon in 1969, we here on this little satellite stopped thinking spaceflight was cool. Why is that? When did going outside our atmosphere and floating around in the vast depths of space become routine? When did the ISS get boring, or walking on the moon become mundane?

As some of you readers might know, I have always been a space-geek. Being raised in a family of science-fiction nerds helped, of course, but my grandfather actually worked for NASA, and I like to think my fascination comes from a deeper, geneological place. I have watched most of the launches over the years (when I can), and have gobbled up every documentary and several books on the history of man's quest for space. I can actually tell you what a lot of the positions at Mission Control do, and what those silly-sounding acronyms stand for. I am waiting breathlessly for the first Constellation Missions, and the debute of the new Ares I rocket, designed to one day take men to Mars.

But, over the years I have observed with dismay as people's interest has flagged in NASA and its international counterparts. Stories about shuttle launches are shunted to the end of a news broadcast, if mentioned at all; the only time NASA usually gets a mention is if they are getting their budget cut once again. On Capital Hill, people wail and shake their fists at the billions spent on such luxuries as building new crew capsules so we can retire the ailing, aged space shuttle, putting together return missions to the moon, and getting ourselves and our technology ready for eventually going beyond our own little orbit and exploring the rest of the solar system. NASA recently scrapped plans to build a moon base that would have made a Mars mission easier, due to budget cuts.

People, space is cool, and the men and women who are brave and intrepid enough to explore it are heroes. We cannot forget that we are citizens not just of this planet, but of the universe. Think of all we have learned just in the last fifty years because we were ballsy enough to step up to the plate and say we could do something, even if we had no idea how. We have a Space Station that represents nearly unprecedented cooperation between international agencies, fully-functioning and making discoveries everyday. We have a telescope that can take pictures of other galaxies. We have stood on the surface of another planet, and we may yet do so again one day. We have the technology to not just explore, but to live in a place that experiences earth-rise every morning. I'm telling you, space is cool, and we should be paying more attention.

What if the Wright Brothers had given up because they couldn't afford to build another plane? Or worse, what if they had flown, and nobody cared about it?

Learn more about the Space Program here: NASA Homepage

Watch incredible documentaries and read books about the history of the Space Program: From the Earth to the Moon, In the Shadow of the Moon, Space Odyssey: the First 40 Years of Space Exploration, Magnificent Desolation

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." --Oscar Wilde

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