Friday marked NASA's final space shuttle launch, which I've been thinking about off and on ever since the media frenzy began a week or so ago. As much as I think it's sad that we are losing manned space flight, which has been a pretty large part of our scientific history for the past 50 years, and was once a huge rallying point for American morale, I find myself wondering if we're losing more than just the space shuttle. My worry is that we're losing the ability to wonder, and the ability to think "What if?" and then strive to answer that question.
When author Francois Rabelais died, his last words were "I go to seek the great perhaps". I feel like that's what our first voyage into space was, it was a deep need to go seek the great perhaps. Or, as my Star Trek geek husband would say, "to boldly go where no man has gone before". We did not go into space because it was easy, or because it was necessary. We went because we were spurred by that basic human need to reach for more than what is at our fingertips. We reached for the stars, and when they were too out of reach to come to us, we found a way to go to them. We went because we wondered what was out there, and we knew we would never be satisfied until we found that answer. Now, as we lose the ability as a nation to continue those voyages, I find myself saddened that we may be sacrificing our ability to wonder. I think about how there will be no elementary school children talking about how they want to grow up and go to space, because we won't be doing that anymore, and I feel infinitely saddened. I remember going to Kennedy Space Center with my family when I was 12, and my dad getting us up at the crack of dawn to drive out and watch a space shuttle launch, which didn't happen due to weather conditions, but I remember sitting there thinking about how exciting it must be to sit in that shuttle and blast through the atmosphere into a place that almost no one can say they've gone.
Space is one of the few things left in this world that we can explain, and yet remains a mystery. It inspires wonderment, and it inspires people to think beyond the world they know into the great perhaps, and it is quickly fading from our grasp. I don't want to lose that feeling, and that sense of pride at knowing that we have been able to accomplish putting people into space for so long. We were able to put people on the moon. If we weren't losing this amazing program, we could likely be putting people onto other distant planets, or traveling beyond our own solar system into the great unknown. So, what we lose is so much more than a tangible space program, we lose the ability to dream that something more is out there for us, and that we need only seek it and reach high enough to grasp it.