January 21, 2004

From the Mouths of Babes. . .

Or pre-teen sons, as the case may be.

I'm working on a personal webpage right now, and one of the background graphics I am considering for the title bar is a lunar excursion module.

Tonight my 9-year old son looked at my progress and started asking questions about Apollo -- how many people landed there and when. I told him and then he asked if the Columbia had ever landed on the moon. I said no, even though there was a command module named Columbia. But no, I told him, the space shuttles can only fly in low Earth orbit.

He looked puzzled and said, "but where do they go? What planet?" Good question, son. Good question. The answer, of course, is nowhere but in circles for the last 20 years.

My son's question I think encapsulates the immediate emotional response I had to the President's speech a week ago. It's a question of goals -- where are we going? And why?

Before my rational self kicked in, I had a primal thrill that we would be going back to the moon to stay, and then to Mars. A dream I've had since I was 9 myself. And now I'm conflicted between my desire to see America lead the way in exploring and settling the solar system and my certainty that NASA cannot and will not accomplish that. And worse, that if they do, it will be a flags-and-footprints show like Apollo. Good for pictures that my son can show his kids someday, but not much else.

But that's the cranky grownup, not the idealistic child. Unfortunately, we won't really go anywhere to stay until there's a reason for cranky grownups to go. When space is just another place instead of an idealistic goal, we'll be there to stay.

Posted by JohnL at January 21, 2004 09:01 PM
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