Space, the final frontier! That sounds so exciting and adventurous. Shouldn’t Americans who psychologically signed on wholesale onto the Manifest Destiny want to explore space further? But today, the Endeavour arrived at an L.A. museum after many delays. Pretty typical.
On May 5 1961, that Alan Shepard blasted off atop a crude Redstone rocket to become the first American in space, in a sub-orbital flight lasting no more than 15 minutes. This was followed by many successes and then failures such as the explosion of the Challenger. Now robots are the ones left exploring the Solar System on behalf of the United States. Although, China has the intention to send a man to the Moon by 2025 (and since our money is china’s could we see it as a success if they make it there?). Meanwhile India is also considering sending a man to the moon. While we don’t have manned shuttle capacity any longer, supposedly, the United States retains the ability to launch spy satellites and other classified payloads almost at will. So, while we can’t explore the universe through manned launches we can still spy on people and countries. I guess it’s good to know we are still good at something in space. I read online that there is another shuttle, a small, un-manned vehicle called the X-37. It is apparently a ”black project’’, whose purpose is not fully understood. Roswell, anyone?
Could space exploration be going the way of the dodo ? We like launching things into the sky so that we can get better and thousands more TV stations (how many ESPN channels do we really need, people?) and spy on our enemies. But our curiosity has definitely been stymied somewhat. I thought technological advancements were supposed to increase our curiosity; but perhaps, just like the remote control, these technological advancements just serve to make us fatter and wedded to the television or other devices that tell us what to buy and think. Where is that free will and sense of Manifest Destiny now?
Growing up I watched some science fiction shows but I wasn’t that glued to them –not that there were that many really. But my mom liked Star Trek-or rather she found Captain Kirk yummy. Years after graduating college, when I was in graduate school I came to appreciate science fiction TV (and movies to some extent) much much more. There was a sense of utopian society even in the most dystopian worlds. Let me explain myself. On Farscape (one of my all time favorites), Firefly, Battlestar Galactica-race seemed like a concept of the far past. Gender disparities were not a major problem. Women and men could both kick butts. Hell, Starbuck was now female character on the revamped BSG (and all-time best remake). Sexual preferences were not all that startling. When I grew up in the South Bronx Science fiction was seen as something only nerds would like and I was tangentially into the genre. [on an aside, for some reason I love Victorian mysteries]. But once I was in graduate school and passed it I came to meet many ethnic minorities who were absolutely taken in by the science fiction genre for it provided a way to escape the mundane and tedious problems of gender, race and sexual orientation. We would all be bad-asses!
So, why do I bring this all up? Even with my extreme fondness for science fiction, even I would not want to move to Mars should the occasion ever rise in my lifetime. I don’t want to be a beta-tester, for one thing. But secondly, there is something about the real world of space that just can’t compare with the idealized science fiction genre version. If we were to move out to Mars-wouldn’t we just be bringing our same old problems with us that would be compounded by the harshness of the new unfamiliar space world? It doesn’t help that scientists insist on naming space objects with frightening images. For instance, located inside the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – one of our closest galaxies – scientists named the celestial nebula therein “Tarantula Nebula”. It is actually quite beautiful in an abstract way with it being so bright and vast –it measures nearly 1,000 light years across! And it is one the best natural laboratories to better understand the formation of massive stars. So, why call it Tarantula? It somewhat evokes for me the image of H.R. Geiger’s Alien (1979).
The character of Reverend Newlin, in True Blood, noted to that humans are 100% motivated by fear. The question now, though, is how do we tap into the original Manifest Destiny drive of Americans to claim the continent from Atlantic to Pacific so that we can go further out into space without relying on fear tactics? Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner rode a balloon to the edge of space, and jumped off a platform 24 miles high with apprently no fear. Could he be our inspiration?
If we are going to continue in space, we need a better reason than government mandate and a better approach than taxpayer funding. Perhaps we can motivate people to believe in space exploration again if we run the movie Independence Day or Armageddon over and over again and get people to see the utility of protecting ourselves from asteroid strikes or to have some off-world base for meeting extraterrestrials ( in case they turn out to be evil or very hungry). We could try to tap into our migratory nature as we have seen in recent news reports. Humans have been an extremely migratory group here on earth-it may just be that we are meant to move on after a certain amount of time.
Of course, we could also just take the remote control, dvr and ipads away. Then we will get off the couch and go back to exploring our universe. Just a thought.