Saturday, October 22, 2005

Pie in the Sky

So I watched this 3-hour special on The History Channel called "Failure Is Not an Option" today... about the mission control folks at NASA... covering the whole history from Mercury through Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, and speculation about beyond... Really cool stuff. Very emotional for me, as I've always been a NASA groupie.

I was born three months after the first moon landing. (My mom says I was there when she watched it on TV, but she could not tell whether I was interested or not.) And the first movie I ever saw in the theater was Star Wars. So I am truly a child of the space age. Carl Sagan was my hero. I read Harlan Ellison when I was in the 6th grade. And I finished writing my first sci-fi novel at 18 (yes, it sucked, but that's not the point).

But it was the Challenger explosion in 1986 that changed my future. Because that was when our country lost faith in the value of space exploration. Let's face it, the general public lost interest in the early 70s. But they were cool with it happening anyway even if they weren't looking. They got computers and velcro and microwave ovens and other cool stuff out of the deal, after all. Then BOOM.

By the time I was finishing high school, the hiring freeze was about all I knew about NASA. So I didn't bother dreaming about any kind of career that could have anything to do with it. I toyed with the idea of planetary science (my hero Sagan was in the dept at Cornell, after all) before I realized there were probably a dozen jobs to be had with the degree and what chance did a B student have? Right.

So off to journalism school. Communications, especially the written kind, that was easy for me. I toook the easy way out. I saw the movie "Contact" and cried like a baby. That could've been me. If only I hadn't been so...

Now I've seen all kinds of criticisms of NASA over the years -- more of that than anything else, really. As a child of the space age, I grew up being told that none of that mattered anymore, that the glory days are long gone, that we have enough problems here on Earth and blah blah blah. None of the great successes matter either -- people only talk about the failures. And they talk about somehow making space travel "safe," as though that were possible. We can't even make driving on the highway safe. We can't even make food and drugs safe. And we're supposed to make exploring the most inhospitable environment to life somehow safe?

Look. If you said, "We can afford to send some folks to the Moon, but we can't afford to bring them home. So they'll have to just stay there till they run out of supplies and then that's it." Certain death. How many people do you think would volunteer for the mission? A couple dozen? A hundred? A thousand? Easily. These are the same crazies in ancient Africa who said, "I wonder what's around that nearly impassable cape down shore from here." And then they went, and no one ever saw them again. Some died. But some of them set up camp and lived down here, made a village, brought up kids. And some of those kids wondered what was beyond the next horizon. And humans populated the Earth.

We can do it. Exploration is in our blood, in our souls. I'm tired of this culture of paranoia, anyway, everyone always talking about safety and security. That's what stagnating societies care about. You stop taking risks, you stop progressing, you shrivel up and die in your comfy little coccoon. Screw that. Screw safe.

Bring me danger. Bring me excitement. Extreme sports guys will risk their lives on some stupid hillside just for a few precious seconds of rush. Screw that too. We live vicariously through them, through video games and movies, content to pretend at adventure. Fuggitall.

It's time we not only accepted risk, but EMBRACED it. Make risk your lover. Understand that you are not as special and unique a snowflake as you think you are, that if you do something crazy and get your ass melted the world has not lost one nano-fraction the amount of beauty and wonder it loses every day by your not having tried. Neil Armstrong stood on the freakin MOON 35 years ago because a whole fuggin lotta people risked everything to make it happen. That's why he said what he said. He and Aldrin were THIS CLOSE to crashing that flimsy little go-cart of theirs, and they said no aborting man, not when we're this close. We're not putting our own asses ahead of the advancement of our fuggin species. And the risk paid off. The original 7 astronauts were TEST PILOTS, for fuck sake! They'd risked more than that just to prove whether some company's new guidance system might work. So don't think for a minute they would've pulled out of the space thing in the culture we have now.

And there's a bunch of people who haven't, who are still committed, who still feel the crazy pull of the unknown and most go forth to meet it. Whether that is intellectually, technologically, or physically. I wanna' be one of them. I took the safe and easy path 20 years ago, and guess where it's gotten me. Into a nice safe little day job where the only thing I can really accomplish is generating a little revenue for some stock-holder's pocket change. Screw that too. It's time to do something. To mean something. To risk something.

Anything. Because I can't stomach the idea, the ugly thought that's been rattling around in my brain for decades now, that I'm living at the beginning of the end for my people. Not just the US of A (we'll rant about that some other day), but my freakin species. Maybe Homo sapiens sapiens ain't so wise after all, if this is as far as we could go. If I wanna' keep going at all, myself, keep living and bothering to get out of bed in the morning, I gotta' think there's more to us than this.

Any HR people at NASA out there? I'm available. My resume's on the USAjobs site now. A more passionate cheerleader for the PR front you will never find, I guarantee. Heck, I'd even clean up the swearing for you guys. Really. Hell yeah.

Love --CAS

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