Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Stars, at Night

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” -- Leonardo da Vinci

“I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth — but that we will always make it … survive … endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure — will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage — and his noble essential decency.  This I believe with all my heart.” – Robert A. Heinlein

When was the last time that you looked up into the night’s sky?  When was the last time that you contemplated the wonder of the stars?  How many people have stopped looking up into the night?  In many of our cities, the light pollution is so bad that even if we were so inclined, the stars are obscured from our view.  Our inspiration for centuries of progress, lost in the pollution of our civilization.

In many arguments about going to the stars, many point out to the various injustices and crises here at home, saying that these should be our first duty.  The stars can wait, they say, first we need to clean up our home.  They point to the costs, saying the vast sums are best spent at home.  They point to the risks, saying that the danger is too high.

In a world of accountants and lawyers, where we have become risk adverse, frightened of ourselves, pulled by the extremes of dogma, confined by an almost universal lack of vision, we have turned away from the stars.  We look downward, inward. We have squandered our tomorrow, for the sybaritic indulgences of today. 

Not everyone moved from the Old World to the New World.  Only a few individuals made the trek out of Africa all those countless centuries and generations ago.  My own ancestors moved from Belarus and Romania at the turn of the last century, no doubt leaving behind sisters, brothers and cousins.  Not everyone is going to the stars. I won’t and unfortunately, neither will you.  Civilization is not about today, it is about tomorrow.

Why build anything at all, if we aren’t in this for the future?  If we stay here only, then our future is finite.  We will last until our resources run out, and then we will be prisoners here, as our star swells, eventually consuming us.  Or, we go out into the night, we learn and grow as we find ourselves on new worlds, eventually around new stars, we evolve. 

Do we dare to dream new dreams, to do the big things, not because they are easy or popular, but because they are our destiny?  Will we stop looking downward, counting the cracks in the pavement of our civilization, compiling the trivia into encyclopedic volumes, or start looking up…looking out into the night once more.

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