Thursday, March 29, 2007

Galaxy Quest

“Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour;
orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
a sun that is the source of all our power…”

So, do we not care about space anymore?

I remember back in 2004, when Bush was talking about a manned mission to Mars, which led to all of the expected jokes — “Bush wants to go to Mars, let’s send Bush to Mars, ha ha ha” — but no detectable enthusiasm.

Okay, I think the initiative was a bad idea, too. It’s incredibly expensive with no immediate payout. And I’m confident that we’re going to make it there anyway, with my usual faith in the private sector — space tourism is already becoming a lucrative industry, with tickets selling in excess of twenty million. Functioning space hotels seem likely to go up in the next twenty years. As these venues both increase and become more affordable, intelligent investors will jack up their funding for private research. We’ll get there.

What disappoints me is the open contempt for the very idea of space travel. I mean, did nobody out there feel a chill of excitement at the prospect of travelling to Mars? My God, of a human stepping onto the surface of an alien world?

Whatever happened to the enthusiasm of the sixties? Back when science fiction was about ideas instead of explosions, when we put a man on the moon, when we transformed the night sky from a veil that covered us into a place that we could go? When our natural satellite ceased to be the subject of myth and superstition, and became a surface that bore a footprint of homo sapiens sapiens?

Two weeks ago, our species discovered that the south polar region of Mars contains enough ice to cover the entire surface of the planet in water thirty-six feet deep. If the planet once supported water, could it have supported life? Life? What would that mean for us, if it did? What might we learn about ourselves? About our world? What would such an achievement mean for the history of our civilization? Let alone our future?

So what happened? What happened to our excitement about these things? Am I the last one left who cares?

“So remember when you’re feeling very small and insecure
how amazing unlikely is your birth;
and pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘cuz there’s bugger all down here on Earth…”

No comments: