- Created on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 09:15
The human race: born with the singular potential to reach the stars and an primitive willingness to remain stuck in the mud.
I read on the Internet today that NASA was cutting funding to space exploration, again. There has been a slow disinvestment in space exploration for years, an insidious and gradual closing down every source of funding that does not have anything to do with war or the repercussions of the global financial situation, finally culminating in the closure of the shuttle program. Obama said this would free up NASA to focus on the bigger picture the exploration of Mars and beyond, it'd be a good thing, and most of us believed a politician.
As a child I absorbed any books I could find on 'the future'. I spent hours pouring over the hand drawn pictures found in the Osbourne Book of the Future and a vision beyond 2000. Mankind would be free of disease and poverty and, as a species, ascend to the very top of Maslow's pyramid by exploring the limits of our world, the ocean and the vast tracks of interstellar space. And who could forget the visions of Stewart Crowley? I spend four months scraping together enough pocket money to buy Spacebase 2000 and, later, Spacewreck. Those haunting pictures of derelict wrecks floating in the cold vacuum of space; the long forgotten detritus of some vast interstellar battle would chill me as I played out the battles is my imagination. Even now, sitting with my eleven year old thumbing through a very used Spacebase 2000 I still feel that sense of awe and wonder. There was also an optimism prevalent in the literature or the 50's, 60's and 70's, in the fundamental unstoppable spirit of mankind and the unavoidable migration of humanity beyond the narrow confines of our solar system. These days we have vampires or stories about human savagery in a post-apocylptic hell. We've lost something, we've fallen foul of a series economically and socially defined limitations, we've imposed mental barriers: that this stuff is hard, that there isn't enough money to reach for the stars, that there are more important issues we should be focussing on. Thing is, that could have been said at any point in human history. I'm sure there were really serious social issues that could have been resolved rather than wasting time inventing the telephone, or the steam engine, or vaccines. Neal Stephenson is right: we're no longer thinking about the big ideas. A person transported from 1900 to 1960 would not have recognised the landscape they'd arrived in, the wouldn't have the language or the mental ability to understand the changes in technology or society. The same couldn't be said about someone from the 1960's transported into today's world. There are newer versions of old things. There are still aeroplanes. There are still televisions. There is no space program to speak of, a person from the 1960's would rightly feel proud that men from their era could send people to the moon.
We are a species rapidly outgrowing the limited resources of our home. Over-population and climate change paint a very bleak picture for our children and future generations. There has been no time in our history when the vision of big thinkers is needed more.