I cried today. I never thought I’d see this; a turning away from our outward urge. From Apollo 8 to this final flight of the Endeavour, I have followed our space exploration for years. In real terms Endeavour has not been the end. The end probably happened years ago when we decided that space exploration should give way to delivery runs to our global communications system. And exploration into space may well continue; reaching out to the future will pass to the developing world, to China and India. It has probably been a mistake to identify our access to space with NASA and the American push.
I sort of assumed I would spend my twenties and thirties in Luna City, moving out to the asteroid belt as my children, Jack and Selene, became independent and moved towards their own entrance into space. Seconds would have become true metric units as I thought in kiloseconds, megaseconds, gigaseconds, divorced from the constraints of planetary life.
When did my dream disappear? Did Star Wars do it? Maybe. We seemed to become so embedded in our make believe that the reality of the careful, hugely expensive, preparations for each tiny step seemed silly and petty. In my mind’s eye I have journeyed out, swung around the astonishing rings of Saturn, plunged into the cold depths of interstellar space, walked on strange new worlds, gloried in communication with mysterious and beautiful aliens. Except we didn’t and haven’t and now we’re not even moving towards that vision. Why plod through the endless expensive tedium when cgi lets us believe we are the gods themselves?
Perhaps it’s for the best. Potentially we could squander all the wealth of our beautiful world on finally getting out to a cold and sterile place where we lament our loss; a world destroyed by our efforts to escape from it, a paradise where, if we had stayed, we might have flourished in serene joy. What we seem to have achieved is both less and more tragic than that. We have neither seeded the planets and stars nor relaxed into an eco-paradise. We’ve wasted our opportunities and our wealth on producing vast quantities of ugly trash in which we are slowly sinking. Damn! We are a pedestrian race who neither reach for the stars nor build something fine here on Earth. No wonder I weep.