Hey, how often do you get two big space anniversaries in the same day? Today we've got two: fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic ride into space, and the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch. Both of these are landmark events. Before Gagarin, some theorized that humans could not survive in space. There were all sorts of concerns; it was a new frontier we didn't really understand very well. His test proved once and for all that we could go there - and that opened the doors for "could" to become "should".
The shuttle program, for all its flaws, has had thirty years of forward progress for humankind in space. I think we all could wish more had been accomplished over those thirty years. But I think it would be wrong not to look back and smile at what has been accomplished.
All the same, I wonder what new things we'll have to celebrate in the future? What new landmark dates in space exploration will we create for our children and grandchildren to celebrate?
Where do we go from here?
I'm not an astronaut. Probably never will be (although if someone offers me a ticket, better believe I'll be taking the trip!). I'm not a professional physicist, although that was my original major in college. So what can I do - you do - we all do to encourage our future in space? What can we do to make this a priority for our nation and the world as we step forward into the future?
The obvious answer is to get a little political. We all know that the government responds to voter desires, if slowly. If space exploration - manned space exploration - becomes a priority issue for voters, politicians will make it a priority in the budget. And it's probably not going to happen in any serious way until we see that.
Some folks will ask how we can prioritize that with so many problems on Earth. Pollution, job losses, government at war with itself, media revolutions, fighting revolutions, higher taxes, gas closing on $4 a gallon again, greenhouse gases, oil spills, earthquakes, nuclear plant problems, wars, people starving, healthcare problems, and the list goes on...and on...and on.
The thing is, it always has. It always will. A thousand years ago, the people living felt like their issues were just as insurmountable, every bit as critical. More to the point, fifty years ago the USSR and USA both felt like the issues their nations faced were just as Earth-shaking as we think ours are today. But they managed to get men into space - then to the moon.
These problems we are facing have always been there, in one shape or another. And they always will be. Every new generation has its own set of crisis moments, a never-ending stream of them. But by and large, it is not the crisis that history remembers: it is those people who managed to step beyond day to day crisis management and do something greater that we recall and reflect upon.
I'm a writer. I enjoy writing science fiction, but not of the far-future variety. What I prefer to write about is the time just ahead of us now. The future in space which we can have, not a hundred years from now but ten or twenty years from now, IF we reach out to grab it. I want to write not about the someday possible, but the tomorrow possible. Partly because that interests me. And partly, I guess, because I hope to in some small way help inspire a few more minds to wish it could be so, and maybe a few of those to try to step forward and help make it so. Science fiction is a realm of the imagination, one of the most powerful tools of the human mind. If we can envision something, we can reach for it and, in time, achieve it.
So if there's a theme to my upcoming science fiction episodes, it's that people belong in space, should be there. That exploration and curiosity are so fundamental to our nature that turning aside from this challenge is a denial of who and what we are as a species. And that at our core, we know as a species that we cannot deny the siren call of the great adventure waiting just beyond our atmosphere. There is risk, yes; danger, yes; and there will be losses, yes. But we owe it to ourselves, our predecessors, and our descendants to reach for the possible.
Space is within our reach. We just need to stretch a little.