01 February 2013

COLUMBIA, Feb 1, 2003 

I stare awestruck at the sight of Columbia streaking and tumbling and crumbling like a meteor across an indigo background, its pieces flashing and sparkling like so many diamonds in the sky. My mind’s eye replays other such scenes, scenes of people with the right stuff carrying the hopes and dreams of humanity to a sad but temporary end - Apollo 1, Soyuz 1, Soyuz 11, Challenger. Challenger and Columbia, star-crossed vessels holding the family of man in their wombs, their spectacular yet starkly shortened paths across the heavens will forever be etched in our collective memory. 

I drift back in time and see a little boy sitting for hours and days in a nearly-empty library devouring every book about space adventures, travel and exploration in distant exotic worlds, every book written by Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke and others, and I think - no, I know - there were other little ones just like him, in other libraries in other towns, others who made it. Others who had the dream and vision and were able to make it come true and I, having taken a different path, I envy them. 

Oh how I do so envy them. 

Even now in the face of another reminder that no matter how hard we try, if we don’t get it right, nature cannot and will not be fooled. As always when things go wrong, there are those who say we should leave space alone, we shouldn’t go there, it’s too dangerous, we don’t belong there, we need to fix problems here first. They who just don’t understand – correct to a point, they don't or can't see the greater vision. Trite as it sounds, space truly is the last frontier left for man to explore. We must do it - we are meant to go there. We are on the verge of a greater diaspora than humanity has ever seen. Yes of course space exploration is risky and fraught with danger. Yes of course there have been close calls and people have died, and most likely they won’t be the last. It is the nature of exploring a hostile environment while depending upon less-than-foolproof machines and technology. Those who have the chance to go, they know and understand this. 

But you know what? It is a certainty that each and every one of our intrepid spacefarers would not have it any other way. Each and every one of them died while living their dream, as I would if I were able. It would be a grave dishonor to those lost if we were to give up now. It is our responsibility to find out what went wrong, to fix it, and to continue the quest. We MUST continue, for the stars beckon us. As surely as the unknown seas beckoned to Columbus and Magellan, the stars call to us. Like the sirens to Ulysses the stars cry out to us and, like it or not, however long it may take we cannot resist them. It is our nature, it is our instinct - we are compelled to explore, to discover new places to live and work and survive, and to take all of humankind along if only in our own dreams or thoughts. 

We must continue the quest, for it is our destiny.

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