Letter From New York, November 22, 2009

Or: As it seems to me…

The exciting news of the week, to me, was that water was found on the moon. To me, that was huge news and while it didn’t make banner headlines [which, by the way, to me, it should have] it was a momentous discovery. The fact it didn’t make banner headlines goes to show just how far down the news pecking order space has gone. Water on the moon? Not so long ago it was pretty much gospel that the moon was arid, not a drop to be had at all. Yet that’s not true. Water is not flowing in rivers but it’s captured in the soil.

Where did it come from? That’s the question I’m asking. How on earth is there water on the moon? Why aren’t the papers full of discourse and debate about how this has come to be? Water on the moon? And there’s water on Mars… just not a lot of talk about it and there should be. We’re talking about mysteries of the universe and the world press is more concerned about the outfit Blake Lively wore to some premiere than it is about the wild mysteries of the universe that should be being debated.

I was space nut kid. I created my own mission control in front of the television when there was a space launch. I hauled every futuristic piece of gear I could find in the house and made my own Houston. It lifted me up, excited me, and made me feel engaged not just in what was happening in that moment but in the fate of the human race. Space, to me, was already the final frontier before Star Trek claimed the phrase.

The exploration of space excited me as a child in the way I assume children were excited, entranced, intrigued by tales of the New World back in the day when it was being discovered. It gave everyone, from child to grandparent, a sense [I think] of wonder of what MORE there was to the world. Just as the idea of space exploration gave me, as a child, the sense of what MORE there was to the universe in which I lived.

Similarly, in the first part of the 20th Century, people became excited by other people accomplishing feats that stretched the concept of what man could do. Lindbergh became famous for flying the Atlantic solo for the first time. Amelia Earhart catapulted to fame for being the first woman to do the same. Adventurers became heroes because they expanded our concept of our abilities as humans.

We live, it seems, in a time of diminished expectations. We do amazing things – just this week, men walked in space while working on the International Space Station. Certainly not the first time a man has walked in space but none the less amazing, no less so because it’s not the first time. The fact we do it is amazing. It’s something that should take up a bit more space in the public consciousness than the dress worn by a television star.

There are many amazing things happening, in space and on earth though we seem to discount them, make them small while aggrandizing the trivial – like the exploits of our favorite television and film stars. I don’t really care that we do [well, okay, I find it a bit annoying and overblown] but I do really care that we give such short shrift to the amazing things that are happening every day – things that are steps in changing the way we live forever.

I can’t use a solar powered calculator without remembering it’s a by-product of the space program, as are so many things we use in daily life. Up there in space, as well as down here on earth, men and women are slowly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and showing us the way to do things differently, better.

Robert Browning’s quote: “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for…” has been used by me before. It’s very true and is part of the essence of man, to reach to do more, something man has been doing since he emerged from the primordial soup. We can’t help ourselves so let’s do more celebrating of it.

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