Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whitey's On Vulcan

The Bible frightened me as a kid. Part of this came courtesy of the Catholic Church, but the Bible's stories and language conveyed much of the terror. To my young mind, God was insane, forcing his subjects to perform hideous tasks to prove their "love." The New Testament eased some tension, but by then I was a skeptic. Save for an incident several years ago, which I still wrestle with, my skepticism remains, the fear mostly gone.

Only once did the Bible provide comfort: Apollo 8's crew reading from Genesis as they orbited the moon in 1968.

I was nine watching this on TV. It looked unreal. To me, astronauts were like gods, so reading about the first days of creation while in lunar orbit fit. I felt tied to a wider consciousness. Humans rocketing through outer space mesmerized me. It seemed like the beginning of a grand adventure, one I wished to join. My dreadful math grades and undisciplined school behavior made this dream ridiculous. I wasn't even class clown. How could I lead a mission to Mars?

Locked inside late-60s suburbia, I didn't see the political implications of space travel. Had I been older, I might have agreed with Gil Scott-Heron about Whitey on the moon. I'd probably view NASA as a celebration of US power, then hammering Southeast Asia. Reality would dampen awe. Being a kid deepened the mystery of space. Whenever I watch footage from that time, I'm on my grandparents' living room floor, staring at the future.

Now that NASA is ending Shuttle flights, there are plans for returning to the moon, exploring asteroids, and ultimately Mars expeditions. It might be wise to reorder our political/economic system before committing to long-term space exploration. What's the point of stretching human reach if we can't or won't improve this existence?

I know the answer to that in present time. Must the future be privatized as well? However it eventually shakes down, let's at least ensure Zefram Cochrane's initial warp drive test in 2063 so the Vulcans will make first contact. If ever a planet needed logical alien guidance, it's ours. Too bad many of us won't live long enough to prosper from it.