Oh, how our souls rise on gears and fire, finless, spline fit, gimbaled and gyroed. Oh, how I hope in the roar. Oh, how I know this is our best but could be better. After we found everything foolish and swore it to banishment. After we rooted out imperfection with computers and microscopes - with the answer to the calculation on every plotted screen, we built this.
we made this one thing
assailing the sky,
best we can.
Show me the man utterly happy on earth.
Tell me the story of noplace
The dimensionless spot, origin of our birth
Where we should stay, tree like,
In tornado-swept black and white
Out of the Technicolor full of harm and witches we know are there.
Flying monkeys and lightning that kills.
Tell me the lie about here, safe from them, and there not.
What poison makes you think it?
How can you want that for me,
When you know there are inhabitable planets around unnamed stars
Some infinities bigger than others
Nothing you couldn't add one to,
And wind up someplace in sometime,
With everything new to sort?
Your universe has all the time in the world.
Offers monsters and dragons,
Trials and damage,
The raw beauty of injuries risked and endured,
Rewards of obliteration for all the trouble,
And me with only but one life for all of it.
You say there's no place like home, fine, I know
Expect a postcard.
I know there are people who don't feel the way I do, I'm old enough. But I am a child of the space age, when starless black was the infinite and impenetrable abode of God, forbidden to we the dust-built, flightless meat creatures.
Don't get me wrong. There is no delusion. The men we put in space were serious war tactics. It was weapon positioning strategy. Not a "they" who did it, but all of "us".
So we let the commies know we could aim hydro-lithium explosives toward them from the direction of Arcturus, knowing they'd never again sleep a comfortable night under the stars. Knowing that when their children pointed toward the harvest moon they'd have to stop themselves from angrily mentioning the yankee flags and NASA bootprints on the surface. It was us. We the people put English-speaking war pilots on the nearest planetoid. The first human steps drawn by unearthly gravity.
For some, the nature of the act was supremacy.
But there was a side effect.
I am here to tell you all of our military plans to make this society safe from ruin went unnoticed by some of us.
There was an unintended effect to the grainy video from the phone-booth sized atmospheric containment vessels we fired upward. When we saw those star-bound warriors heading outbound, we saw that they had fingers. And they smiled like children before great unopened presents with teeth that gleamed like ours.
And we saw they had eyes and in them an ecstasy we could only imagine, and imagine it was greater than any we had ever felt.
Thus unintended consequence of our desire to dominate the visible sky, the consequence of TLI and roll programs and F5 hypergolic thrust
And Genesis read from the first orbit
and Earthrise and Tranquility Base
Show me a man whose heart does not soar on liftoff. I dare - you'll search hard to find him.
And if you do, give him my regards.
Yesterday they shot the finance-starved unmanned Orion successfully around the earth to the ocean for pickup. I watched plenty of shuttle launches, and envied the plenty of orange-clad astronauts sent aloft. Teachers and Engineers even, like me.
Not that I wouldn't have loved to have tried the astronaut program, but after Apollo, there was less in it.
Some kids want to be rock stars and I went through that phase. More than that, I wanted my foot in a boot compacting the dust in one-sixth gravity because I saw human men do it, rapt and dreamless. When they said to get to the moon I needed all the science and math I could absorb, I did. In the meantime the space race was won. Ennui ensued. Though I did see Apollo 17, forty-two years ago, on a launch pad, I also saw the program erode from dream stuff to the practicality of orbit. The last moonship was used to link to the Russians we floated bombs over. The remaining moon boosters were expended putting a solar-powered garbage can into orbit. Then that plummeted as molten bits to the Australian outback.
Then there was the ISS which most people don't think about.
All wonderful things I wish I could be a part of, but really. I mean, really.
By the time I was on my way to work yesterday, the Orion had splashed down. When I got home I watched the replay and the press briefing. I saw a bespectacled bearded engineer get all choked up when he said, "When we saw that picture...you see we put the camera in the window of the spacecraft and so you could feel like you were there looking out. The earth from three-thousand miles. Something we haven't seen since...when we started the Apollo guys were still here...everything since 1972 has been earth orbit...I mean, you could imagine being there, looking out..." and then he had to stop and wipe his face with a handkerchief.
The blonde haired girl sitting next to me said, "He's crying."
I said, "Because finally..." before the lump in my own throat stopped me.
Because like the white bearded engineer - finally my heart pounds in joy of the knowing, finally filled with desire, finally again a serious undertaking by we who uphold an advanced civilization -
we're going somewhere true, back to exploration just for the dream of it.
Dreams are attainable. They are.
I don't know how it works. Nobody ever drew the equations for me. I never saw the Q.E.D. on a blackboard.
It seemed to me that people who got what they wanted told those who didn't
"You just have to want hard enough."
But that's not it. That's missing the point. That's the zero-solution to all the differential equations a mathematician can imagine.
Yes, zero is an answer to everything. But it's acceptable only to the lazy and nearly dead.
You live to "want" in a direction. You possess life to motivate your desire from yourself toward something.
The solution to your desire does not arrive like FedEx while you sit in stasis, all the time bored as dirt, miserable, wishing.
This is what I can tell you. This is what I know.
E=MC^2 F=ma h/2pi > delta p times delta x
We have found the muons and mesons, and black holes, and rotaviruses, and continental drift. We can send probes to Pluto, stand atop Everest, and photograph tubeworms clinging to volcanic cones on the ocean floor. We know how some of this world works but nobody - not one human of the billions that now live or have ever lived can say, exactly, from where comes the energy that motivates my fingers onto this keyboard. We can explain the chemistry of the muscles, and the electric transmission of the brain.
What exactly is the source of that chemistry and electricity that powers my identity in this dimension? What makes the chemical reaction of life go? What makes DNA replicate, sound become music, and light become sight?
We are capable of ignoring unfathomable mystery in pursuit of the trivial. Something called success measured in dollars or euros or yen. Hits or views or otherwise bankable fame.
Yet what we can attain is so much richer and extends beyond death
And that, dear heart,
What I want for my children.
That someday she may look into an alien sky to gaze upon distant planet earth,
And squint into a telescope toward the interface between white and blue and brown,
And see the glistening bottom of the earth and say to her fellow explorers,
"There upon that ice my own father once trod,
And tapped a thick laced boot upon the axis,
And claimed it his for just that moment."
Then tap her boot.
A new world to be ours.