Space: the forgotten frontier


Saturday the 1st of August, 2008 was an interesting day for news in the world.  Why is that, I hear you asking.  Well, the space shuttle Endeavour touched back down on planet Earth after spending a grand total of 16 days in space working on the International Space Station.

The interesting thing about this is the remarkable lack of fanfare that surrounds anything to do with humanity’s exploits in space these days.  When you consider that 40 years ago the world stood united by the feat of landing a person on the moon, it’s quite remarkable that now, when people are in space doing life threatening work on a SPACE STATION(!), people really don’t care.

In fact, the whole concept of a space station orbiting the planet is greeted with remarkable apathy by the average person on the street. Maybe this is because it's not exactly the Death Star, or the Justice League's Watchtower. Whatever the reason, space has become the forgotten frontier.

I started wondering why this is.  To me, space is still a fascinating subject.  Science fiction films invariably do well at the box office (unless you count the all time scum sucking movies such as Mission to Mars and Battlefield: Earth).  Yet when it comes to real life space exploration, the general public couldn’t really care less.

The question is, what would it take for people to start getting excited about space travel once more? 

I suppose the biggest drawcard for space is that it’s unknown.  The biggest thrill of landing someone on the moon was that it had never been done before (in fact, some muppets reckon it never actually happened.  As always, these people must be destroyed... now), and many believed it to be an impossible feat.

When I think of the three most enduring speeches from American social politics, I first think of Abraham Lincoln signing the emancipation proclamation saying “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper.” 

Good times, Abraham. Good times.

Second, I think of Martin Luther King Jr delivering his “I have a dream...” speech.  And then thirdly, I think of JFK uttering the following two lines at his ‘swearing in’ and when he addressed a Joint Session of Congress, both in 1961:

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

The line about landing on the moon is pretty inspiring.  I suppose the equivalent today would be landing someone on Mars.  Now THAT would be inspirational.  In fact, to get inspired about space travel again, watch this scene from the West Wing.

Do it!

Done it?

Petty impressive right?  Feeling a little inspired?

I am!

I have no idea of the complexities.  I have no idea of the funding required.  And given that we’re in the middle of a worldwide recession that is predominantly Bill Clinton’s fault, I don’t think there’s much chance it’ll happen anytime soon.

However, I'm almost certain that the idea of sending people to Mars inspires you a little. 

If it doesn't, then you're an idiot.

To me, space travel and space exploration should be an uplifting thing.  It should capture people’s imaginations because exploring space and discovering more about the universe is an amazing thing.   Indeed it was Albert Einstein who said “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

Fred Hoyle, the famous English astronomer said, “The probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.”

We live on a unique planet in a remarkable universe.  The fact that we can learn about it and explore the rest of the universe is an incredible opportunity.  I say it’s time to batten down the hatches and get excited about space again.

After all, it is the final frontier.

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Death Star
The International Space Station
is no Death Star

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln delivered some
great speeches in his time
The Fairy of Eagle Nebula is just one
of space's most amazing spectacles