Thursday, September 27, 2007

Small steps

Chad at Uncertain Principles wrote up a summary of the New York Times' Sputnik anniversary coverage, highlighting Dennis Overbye's elegy to his own astronaut dreams, which I have to agree is the best of the bunch.

Of a photograph of a shuttle launch, Overbye writes:

There, on a pillar of violence, is your dream of transcendence, of freedom, of escape from killer rocks in the sky, boiling oceans or whatever postmodern plague science comes up with. Of galactic immortality.

That picture broke my heart. I’d seen rocket launches before and been appropriately chastened by the thunder and heat it took to break free of gravity, but I had never seen it from such a perspective. So much work for such a small step into the universe. How could this ever be routine, economical or safe?

I'm of the wrong generation for this sort of future nostalgia, and young enough to imagine that some Big Space Plans might be realized during my lifetime, but it still resonates.

After all, not to get all weepy, but who has never lost a dream? And for the Apollo generation, space travel wasn't just a personal dream but a national one. Overbye writes:

Watching the Apollo astronauts recount their travels to the Moon in the documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon,” I was wiping away tears for a time when we had bold dreams and leaders who, for whatever motives, could make them happen. Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the Moon are as crisp as the day he made them.

Yes, there is the President's Vision for Space Exploration, though it has begun to feel more like a national chore than a national passion. And there is the emerging commercial space industry, which may be where Overbye's deferred dreams have found a haven.

But for now, we're just waiting on the next "great leap."

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