I am an enormous space nerd. As a kid, I loved to look up at the stars at night. I wanted to know everything about how the universe worked, and the way it could make you feel so small. I’m certainly no expert, but I’m what I could call an armchair astronomer. I’ve read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, love me some Neil Degrasse Tyson, and can find the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt (with some occasional help from the Night Sky app). With the success of the recent movie Gravity, I got to thinking about our country’s space program.
Gravity follows two astronauts, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, as they work to repair a satellite in orbit around the Earth. When something goes wrong, the two have to fight to survive the bleak terrain of space and the ever constant pull of gravity. At just 90 minutes long, the pace never falters in this character study and white knuckle survival story. The camera work by Alfonso Cuaron, of Children of Men fame, utilizes long takes and the freedom of 360 degree movement of the camera in space to create absolutely stunning sequences that really deserve to be seen on the big screen.
Audiences have responded well to the film, bringing in over 230 million dollars and staying in the number one spot in the box office for three weeks. People respond well to the idea of outer space, but on a national level our government and sometimes the populace doesn’t understand why this should be a priority.
A guy I know at work was telling me about how he and his wife got into an argument because he couldn’t understand why NASA kept going to the moon. He thought that if we’re going to go, why not go big and go beyond the Moon to Mars. He wanted big results and mostly all he saw NASA as bringing back was important, but boring data. Even the public reaction to the Curiosity rover landing on Mars paled in comparison to the closing week of the London Olympics. Simply put, space has a PR problem and needs a mad man to solve it.
That mad man isn’t Don Draper, but Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic. Branson plans to launch the first suborbital space flights to the public. This big leap forward in space travel has come about as the technology becomes cheap enough for large companies to start producing their own rockets. Think about it, when have you ever trusted the government to be creative and innovative or bold with their choices? They’re reliable and mostly stable, the way governments are supposed to be run. Healthy competition urges innovation and takes the big risks that allow for those big results.
Tickets are already sold for the first commercial flight, and among the ticket holders is Lady Gaga. If this shuttle doesn’t crash, while seven of our best and brightest engineers and scientists did, then I claim it as evidence for an uncaring universe. If the launch is successful, then this could prove a start for what could become the new space race. A space race among private corporations and interests instead of global superpowers. I realize I will probably never see this happen in my lifetime, but it’s exciting to see the first steps being taken to make this come true.
We are going to have to move off this planet one day if we want our species to survive. We’re overcrowded and we left the gas running on the stove of Earth. It’s only a matter of time before we ourselves, a wayward match, or nature does it in for us. Space isn’t just something that would be nice to explore, it’s a vital and inevitable part of the expansion and growth of our species. It’s time we start taking that seriously.
Its also vital to making rock n’ roll
There are other benefits to space exploration besides the mere survival aspect. There is something humbling about the thought of space that it makes distinctions such as country and race seem very small by comparison. When Neil Armstrong took that historic first step on the moon he didn’t say “This is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for AMERICA baby!” He said that his step was for mankind.
We already have the International Space Station as proof of this idea. Just look at who all worked together building it, the most interesting being the US and Russia, once bitter enemies in a race to the very project they are now collaborating on. More importantly than superpowers teaming up, however, is the connection between the increasingly disparate developed and developing nations. You need only watch a Vice documentary or turn on the TV to see civil wars, human rights abuses, and exploitation of humans across the planet. We are so far removed from these tragedies that it’s hard to empathize and really grasp the relationship we hold together as humans.
To look down upon the Earth and get a true sense of the scale of our place in the universe must be a life changing experience. Only some 500 people have ever gazed down at earth from among the stars, and if more people were able to get a cosmic view who knows what could happen. This video features one of my favorite quotes of all time, showcasing this phenomena. The namesake piece from the immortal Carl Sagan’s ‘Pale Blue Dot,’ which was written after viewing an image taken from the ship Explorer 1.