I’d typed this post up over the weekend, but in the haze of fatigue and feeling sickly, I just let it sit, forgetting to actually click update with the finished post. Worse – it published as scheduled. I love when technology works as it’s supposed to. Especially when I have to yank the post down and reschedule it for today. As a bonus for my superb attention to detail, you get not one, not two, but today, three posts!*
Last week, August 25th to be exact, was the one-year anniversary of Neil Armstrong‘s death. This point in time, yes, his passing, will always remind me of the joy and future of space exploration. I’ll get to the why of that in a moment.
Armstrong put his booted feet on the moon during his Apollo 11 mission on July 21st, 1969. You’d think it would be this date that would resonate as memory-driven, but it isn’t. It’s the life and career of space man Armstrong himself. What’s troubling is how it seems he’s passed so far from public consciousness that we’ve forgotten the pure excitement and danger and promise of what exists outside of our exosphere. Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, though very much alive, has passed from our radar too. It’s a bit stupefying. Yet, for me, it’s with that first person’s steps on soil that is so very much not Earth’s, and his passing from life, that reminds me to dream.
In not-dead and very present space-trip-terms, Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut, returned from Expedition 35 in May of this year. His unabashed love for his work was shared via facebook and twitter as he detailed his life aboard the ISS, complete with photographs of our lovely blue planet. Much of his commentary was (and is) filled with pride and an amazing amount of humbling humor.
Last year it was the successful landing of the latest Mars rover, Curiosity. After nearly a year in space getting to its destination, millions of us sat in front of our computers and watched, cheered, and cried with relief together, with unadulterated childlike amazement as Curiosity was confirmed as safe and able. I’m getting goose bumps and reaching for a tissue as I type that.
For centuries there have been many who speak as to the wonders of what lies beyond us: Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Dame Jocelyn Bell, Eleanor Margaret Burbridge, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Adam Steltzner, among hundreds of others – and those are folks just in the past hundred years. These are the earth-bound who help those precious few make it into space. That’s not counting the mathematicians, engineers, designers, manufacturers, purchasers, writers, teachers and project managers who make things like this happen. It really does take a village; well, minimally, a country or a vast amount of wealth, to make this happen.
The fact remains, though, that less than .00000001% of us will be going into space anytime soon. We have the means to experience what those spacefarers who have, and will go, experience almost immediately. And yet.
And yet, for the most part, there’s a lack of funding and social care. Which in part I can understand. We have current, very real problems of disease, famine, war, education, racism, sexism, and pollution, let alone anything that makes space sexy in pop culture (with a notable exception of the internet’s opinion on the aforementioned Adam Stelzner and his Mohawk Guy flight director, Bobak Ferdowsi). I mean, many space films over the past few years haven’t been bad, but I can’t necessarily call them great. Good, maybe. It’s as if because of all the immediate media and concerns we face today, that space travel and survey has just become less important. Maybe it has. The US government doesn’t seem to think funding it is principally important. Maybe it isn’t.
I pretty much disagree.
I cannot stress enough how moving forward and past sexism and racism is. It’s not only important, it’s necessary. Or how figuring out some decent middle ground on education will help all of us – not just our kids, all of us. Those kids will be making scarily important decisions years down the road. Decisions that impact all of us. Or figuring out how to meet our fellow man’s basic needs of shelter, food, and clothing. Yet I can’t figure out a scenario where continually under-funding, or simply not funding, space programs is beneficial. Science, astrophysics, astronomy, telecommunications, human resources, trainers, nutritionists, robotics, computer science and engineering, aerospace, avionics, social media, science-fiction authoring, journalism… and heavens help me if I’m not forgetting dozens of fields, but they’re all interlinked and required professions. Not just for the earthbound, but for the spacebound (and at the risk of sounding cliche’d) and beyond.
I have this letter that I found, very randomly, from a magazine I purchased from the thrift store some 18 years ago. I have absolutely no idea who wrote it since the author didn’t sign her last name and doing a name search on children of people who have worked on NASA missions strikes me as creepy. However, searching the name of who it was sent to, sadly, yielded no results. I have absolutely no idea why it was left by the recipient in the publication.
What I do know is that it wedged in a Science Fiction Analog magazine and it has kept my dreams alive. The sender’s father, whoever that is, worked on the mission. Between reading Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Spider and Jeanne Robinson, and watching Star Trek in its various incarnations, and dreaming of a day when I could experience it for myself while working various jobs that seemingly had nothing to do with anything, I had this letter. I really should frame it.
It was sent July 15, 1975, one year and three months before I was even born. Patty is at the Kennedy Space Center, waiting for the launch of the Apollo-Saturn IB, which would mark the first international space mission in conjunction with Russia, the Apollo-Soyuz Mission. It was a success.
The reality is that I will most likely never work on anything space-related, be on a space flight, a space station, or a lunar colony. The reality is that I will also never stop wanting. Perhaps it’s that lack of dreaming past today’s actual needs: work, pay bills, catch the latest episode of Supernatural, figure out what to wear, how to afford that next tank of gas, raise kids, pay for an education that may or may not get you a job, feed yourself, exercise, not get sick, not be discriminated against… the list is endless, that causes us to stop dreaming. Because life is hard, and dreams can be used against us.
Well, fuck that.
All too often it seems we’re fighting not only against one another, but against ourselves. I would argue that space life and travel isn’t some unreachable myth, but instead a common goal and, yes, perhaps a unifier that goes beyond dress, background, race, age, sexuality and gender. At least it should be as I re-watch Curiosity’s live stream landing and critically assess the number of women and people of color involved. Which is, clearly, also part of the bigger issue at hand.
But, these are just my pedantic thoughts while I lay here with a mild fever and remember Armstrong’s death and what it means to me. I want more. I want us all to want more, whether or not it has anything to do with space. And I want us all to want the stars.#AdamSteltzner, #Apollo11, #ApolloSoyuzMission, #BobakFerdowsi, #CarlSagan, #ChrisHadfield, #Curiosity, #DameJocelynBell, #EdwinBuzzAldrin, #EleanorMargaretBurbridge, #Expedition35, #Exploration, #Facebook, #ISS, #KennedySpaceCenter, #MarsRover, #MohawkGuy, #NASA, #NeilArmstrong, #NeilDeGrasseTyson, #ScienceFictionAnalog, #Space, #StephenHawking, #Twitter #Education, #SpaceScience, #Writing