To Infinity and Beyond … Or Not

Liftoff

Today, of course, is one of those bittersweet moments.  When Atlantis comes back down, it’ll be trucked off to some museum to be part of the history books.  And right now, that’s all it looks like it will be – history.

As my wife said, “This makes me sad.”

There’s an exchange in the movie Apollo 13 which takes place shortly after the disaster has made the news:

Henry Hurt: I, uh, I have a request from the news people.
Marilyn Lovell: Uh-huh?
Henry Hurt: They’re out front here. They want to put a transmitter up on the lawn.
Marilyn Lovell: Transmitter?
Henry Hurt: Kind of a tower, for live broadcast.
Marilyn Lovell: I thought they didn’t care about this mission. They didn’t even run Jim’s show.
Henry Hurt: Well, it’s more dramatic now. Suddenly people are…
Marilyn Lovell: Landing on the moon wasn’t dramatic enough for them – why should NOT landing on it be?
Henry Hurt: Look, I, um, I realize how hard this is, Marilyn, but the whole world is caught up in this, it’s historic-…
Marilyn Lovell: No, Henry! Those people don’t put one piece of equipment on my lawn. If they have a problem with that, they can take it up with my husband. He’ll be HOME… on FRIDAY!

That about sums up today’s attitude.  Unless something goes wrong, people don’t care and they most certainly don’t have the will for a space program (or anything that doesn’t have immediate return, for that matter).

“What’s in it for me?”

“What does it cost?”

“Why?”

As a kid, I watched dozens of shuttle launches crammed into a classroom with all my classmates.  In the future, I watched at home while sitting in front of a computer.

I watched Challenger explode and when we went back to space 2 1/2 years later.  My parents once took my brothers and I to NASA HQ at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Looking at pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope remains one of my favorite things to do when I need inspiration.  I’m the sort of person who checks up on Voyager’s progress (117+ AU at this moment, http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/).  Give me a telescope and the Moon and I’ll be lost for hours.  Point me at the stars and you may never see me again.

I firmly believe that we are not alone in the Universe.  Take a look at this picture – the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

The Ultra Deep Field covers a section of the sky equal to holding a 1mm x 1mm piece of paper at 1 meter distance.   Every dot in that picture is a galaxy, about 10,000 in all.  A galaxy contains between 10,000,000 and 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.

Our lone star, the Sun, has 9 planets in orbit around it.

Give me odds, any odds, and the chances are they won’t be high enough to rule out life elsewhere.

It saddens me to know that there will probably never be another person on the Moon in my lifetime.  That Mars will probably only be seen through telescopes and robotic probes.   It’s not that the Shuttle program was without faults; it had its share.  The problem is there is nothing after it.  Now there’s just an empty hanger.

Why?

Because it’s the same reason you drive around the next bend in the road – to find out what’s there.

Because it’s not here.

One thought on “To Infinity and Beyond … Or Not

  1. Odd – I somewhat had the same thought today at work today when the tv in the break room showed the launch. Kind of a “well, now what?” with no answer of any kind. I agree, kind of sad.

    Like

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