Space Exploration: In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Given increased interest in space exploration, there might be a survivalist dimension to the rush to lift off the planet.

I’ve been wondering lately – given increased governmental (NASA) and private interest in space exploration and colonization (Bezos’ Blue Origin, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic) if there might be a survivalist dimension to the rush to lift off the planet we’ve called home since humankind decorated the first cave dwelling with hand-paintings that said, in effect, “This is where we live, this is where we belong.”

space exploration, Moon colony
Space exploration. Image by NASA/SAIC/Pat Rawlings, Public Domain.

It’s not a new impulse, to be sure. Nearly 2000 years ago, Lucian of Samosota wrote a tale in his A True History about a waterspout that carried him and some companions to the moon where they encountered an alien species (“species”?).

Kepler’s 1634 tale, Somnium (“dream”), is one of the earliest European literary voyages to the moon, and, given his genius, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) well may have assumed that he would visit one day the cosmos he had described. It’s appropriate that NASA named its 2009 space telescope “The Kepler.” It took a while, but reality finally caught up with his imagination.

If he could have traveled from Weil der Stadt, Holy Roman Empire, to Stratford on Avon in 1605, when Kepler discovered his First Law of the elliptical movement of planets, he and Shakespeare, who was writing King Lear at that time, might have discussed how poets and scientists can image a future that becomes a “palpable” reality (see Hamlet).

Others have imagined a voyage in space. There is Jules Verne’s 1865 From The Earth To The Moon, Philip Francis Nowlan and Dick Calkins’ 1929 comic strip, Buck Rogers, with its mass appeal, and Clifford Odets’ 1938 Rocket to the Moon.

The Book of Ecclesiastes may be right, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” but newness isn’t my point (which I may get to). There seems to be an urgent need for our species to have another distant home, most likely Mars, in the event that we need to create “a newer world” if assaults on the ecosphere and Constitutional democracy continue. If the right-wing extremists are looking for a book to ban, they might start with Mein Kampf.

If not another home for all of us, only a few people would be able to space out, at least an experimental habitat for extraterrestrial conflict-resolution so that the Red-nauts and the Blue-nuts (a galactic Oklahoma!) would have to figure out how to share the oxygen, or else.

If this seems too surrealistic a possibility, an alternative might be a Buckminster Fuller type dome erected near Los Alamos (a hint about our destructive capabilities) where a select group of Proud Boys, Quakers, Cross-Dressers, Harvard educated eggheads, Holocaust deniers, animal behaviorist (Jane Goodall), philosophers (a college roommate of mine comes to mind), Shakespeare scholars, a pretend Emily Dickinson and faux Mae West, and some other representatives of the current discordant Family of Man would have to learn to share the Challah, or else. The Gates Foundation and Federalist Society might be co-founders (just a thought).

Okay, I’ll calm down, it’s the Fourth of July weekend. Maybe I’ve been reading too much H.G. Wells and George Orwell. In any case, if real estate on another planet does become available, Trump, Inc. would doubtless own it and the Red Planet would be red-lined.

So back to earth. At the end of one of Robert Frost’s best-known poems, “Birches,” the speaker says, “Earth’s the right place for love:/I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” The Bard of Amherst has a point, and even if there’s an alternative, it won’t be available for settlement any time soon.

There’s no escape in sight; earth is our spaceship for the duration. We’re on this orbiter together. Reds and Blues have to see themselves as co-pilots. If not, we’ve got to get ready for a fatal splash-down. So, when the fireworks’ red and blue glare light up the night-sky on July 4th, everyone needs to look at the person at the person on the lawn next to them, to imagine that person as a political adversary, and to say to themselves – “doesn’t look alien to me….”

We need to substitute earthbound science for Sci-Fi (and use the latter to educate the former) if we’re to make it to 2076 as One country. Okay, a daydream, but as W.B. Yeats writes, “In dreams begin responsibilities.”

Howard R. Wolf is the author of Home at the End of the Day: A Three Act Family Drama and A Version of Home: Letters from the World: An Autobiographical Journey. He has one more mortgage payment and can’t afford another one.

Howard R. Wolf
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