Space! And Why We Need To Return.

I tend to write about my passions. As a transwoman, these passions tend to gravitate toward the issue of basic rights for trans* people. However, such topics tend to feel rather serious and emotionally…heavy. For once, I’d like to write about something less politically charged and yet, just as close to my heart.

Space is very special to me. I grew up as a little girl (err….little boy, but you know…) constantly looking to the stars. I was fascinated by the endless wonder of the cosmos and the mathematically infinite possibilities it offered. But as an adult, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Nobody seems to be too interested in space anymore.

Of course, there are passionate scientists pushing for space exploration: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, for instance. But the general populace at large seems vastly uninterested.

How sad. Space offers unbounded wonder and endless opportunities for learning. Not just about the very nature of the cosmos, but also about ourselves. And I think we can trace this apathy back to one particular event in our recent history: 2:56AM UTC, July 20, 1969. For anyone that knows the significance of that specific date, much less the time, you win 10 points. For anyone else, that is the time that Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. And I’d like all of you, dear readers, to please take a moment to ponder the significance of that event. I mean really ponder it.

See, as millennials (and even younger), we take this moment for granted. There is no ‘Anniversary of the moon landing’ or a national holiday commemorating the event, like there is May 4th. Of course humans have walked on the moon. Why wouldn’t we? We can do anything we set our mind to! And that is a fair point, but let’s come back to that.

Of course we have walked on the moon. Why would we not. When you truly think about it, we are an incredible species. We invented fire by rubbing sticks together. We invented art and music for the sole purpose of expression and feeling. We discovered the power of the atom and how to harness our environment. Space is the natural next step, is it not?

But that’s the problem. As Carl Sagan put it, “Earth is the shores of the cosmic ocean. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, and the water seems inviting.” So why do we sit content to wade upon the shores? I know from experience, when I visit the beach, I wade in gently to test the waters, and then swim out amongst the waves. Why is it we do not do the same, collectively?

Honestly, this girl’s opinion is, well, lack of opinion.

See, in 1970, a new national holiday was started: Earth Day. We celebrate Earth Day on April 22 (or the Vernal Equinox) every year. A time to make the Earth a better place. To boost recycling efforts and play Captain Planet reruns. But who really thinks back to why we celebrate Earth Day? Why didn’t it exist before 1970? Two words: Earth Rise.

297755main_gpn-2001-000009_full_0_0Earth Rise is a photograph (seen to the left), taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968. The picture was taken during the Apollo 8 mission as the spacecraft orbited the moon. This photograph is the first time the Earth is captured in it’s singular glory in full color. As Carl Sagan puts it, “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there.”

And that resonated with people, so much so that they decided to created a holiday with the hopes of polarizing society toward a common goal of protecting our precious marble of a planet. And yet…and yet we’ve become a society that feels quite blasé about space in general.

Which is depressing when you consider what the space race of the 1960s inspired in us.

Star Trek aired first in 1966, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1969, after the photo above was released to the public, that the Star Trek original series was granted reruns and culminated in a massive cult following. Since then, not only has the show gone on to create multiple sequels, films, and spin-offs, but inspired scientific development as well. Think about it. That cell phone sitting on your desk as you read this, dear reader, is a direct realization of the communicator technology first introduced in Star Trek. And that’s my point.

When we put our mind to it as a collective society, with science behind us as a motivation, we can figure out and do anything. Even land on another heavenly body. And that is why we need to return to space. Not just with robots and impersonal probes, but with people. With ourselves. Space can inspire in us something great and profound. Space can make us feel universal and connected. And, honestly, don’t we all want to feel connected in life?

And if space can inspire us to glory, science fiction, and fantasy, why do we not strive to explore and study the cosmos? After all, a part of space is in us. It should be natural. Don’t believe me? Well, I’ll just let Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson explain it to you. In the meantime, I’m going to get to bed and wonder, “When will we go back, and who will that be?”

 

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