This week, I'm continuing my observations gleaned during our road trip to Arizona. As we drove along superhighways in a comfortable, air-conditioned car, I thought about the pioneers who went that way back in the 19th century. Wow. What courage it must have taken to pack up a few of one's belongings, leave everything and everybody behind, and set off for a new life.
Why would anyone wrestle with horses or oxen pulling a flimsy wagon—covered with canvas, if they were lucky—on a barely recognizable track through harsh weather, getting stuck in mud, fording rivers, going long stretches without water across mountains and deserts?
Each pioneer must have had strong reasons for leaving their current life behind for the unknown. Freedom of open spaces as opposed to crowded cities? The opportunity to own land? Escape from something or someone pursuing them? The thrill of adventure? The reasons are probably as varied as the individuals who ventured forth into the frontier.
Today, there is no frontier, no new place to explore. On Earth. As each Star Trek episode began, we were told space is the final frontier. Fifty years ago, we were in a race to explore space. The U.S. had to beat the Soviets. That is rather ironic considering now if we want to send astronauts into space we will be using Russian ships. Anyway, back in the 60s, we marveled at each baby step the U.S. took to reach the ultimate goal—putting a man on the moon. We sat in front of our television sets riveted by the spectacle of a rocket carrying a man, and later more, as it blasted off, leaving behind a fiery trail. Then, it actually happened. We reached that goal set forth by a visionary president. Men walked on our moon.
Once upon a time, I knew the names of the original astronauts. They were heroes. They were given ticker-tape parades. All too soon, we grew complacent. Does anyone even know what a ticker-tape parade is these days? Another space mission? Big whoop. Oh, sure, we paid attention when disaster struck. Better call it off. It's too dangerous. I'm sure there were people back in the 1800s who said going west was too dangerous. People might die. And they did. Yet, that didn't stop others.
So, what about the new "frontier"? Space. How did we fall down on the job? We reached the moon over 40 years ago and then went nowhere else. Yes, we built reusable space vehicles (the shuttles). We built space stations—jumping off points for further exploration, yet we went nowhere. As a nation, we had no goals, nothing more to reach for. Nobody fired our imagination, gave us dreams. The benefits of space exploration were not touted—especially those inventions designed for our astronauts that save lives, things we use daily. (FMI, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off )
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. What would necessitate space exploration? Will it take our planet's dying to give us the kick in the butt to explore? Or, better yet, will private enterprise take over? Amazingly, while we were driving through New Mexico, we heard about the dedication of Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America in Las Cruces the day before. We were so close and missed it. That would have been exciting to see. They even plan space flights for next year. Of course, it would take a small fortune to go. But, imagine the thrill. Just like the pioneers of long ago. Maybe we'll get farther than our own moon this time.
I get a little carried away. After all these years, I'm still enthralled by what's "up there". That's probably why I write space adventures.