Sunday, October 7, 2007

The First Fifty Years

Fifty years ago this October Sputnik became the first human made object to leave the bonds of earth and reach space. Back then our televisions were black and white, World War II was still fresh in our minds, and computers for the masses were 25 years away. Our knowledge of what lie beyond earth was limited. Science fiction and not yet science fact was the foundation of our understanding of the space frontier. The early and mid-fifties were fertile ground for science fiction movies and shows. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were a few of the early sci-fi writers whose works were required reading for those that lived in the Sputnik era and of course the fifties were the beginning of the Cold War and of UFO sightings. So the pump was primed for the shock and inspiration that Sputnik delivered. Suddenly, things that was merely a dream to that point became real. The race was on and America rose to the challenge. There are many detractors to the space program, but in fact it accelerated the transformation of America from an industrial power to a technological and information power. Our world has gone from snowy, fuzzy black and white to vivid high definition color. Our space crafts have journeyed beyond the solar system and visited all of the planets except one (Pluto) and New Horizons will complete that Task in 2015. The pictures that the Mars rovers, Galileo and Cassini have delivered have been nothing short of spectacular. We've impacted a comet, had a rendezvous with an asteroid and have seen the far ends of the universe with the Hubble telescope. We've learned so much about our own solar system and where we once thought our nearby celestial neighbors were barren and lifeless we now know could harbor some form of life whether in pockets on Mars or in the liquid ocean of Europa the possibility exists. Yet, the very technological revolution that the space race started has numbed us to it's wonders. Ready access to information, amazing effects in video games, movies and television have stripped us of our imagination. The real space race has started anew and this time the stakes are high and like last time will lead another technology revolution that our continued existence depends on. The answers to many of our current problems will be solved by our continued understanding of space. To stop or slow down global warming we need to find alternate energy sources like Helium3 which sits in abundance on the surface of the Moon and we still don't understand all that lurks in the heavens that could have devastating effects to life on Earth. Whether asteroids, comets, higher solar output or gamma rays danger could be lurking if we aren't vigilant. To advance as a society we must move forward, standing still has never been what being human is all about. Our ancestors trekked the globe to explore new lands and our generation will do the same in the heavens. The next fifty years will take us to places we can't have imagined - back to the Moon, to Mars, to the oceans of Europa and out to Pluto. We must have the vision, imagination and political will to continue our journey. We must teach our next generation of explorers to imagine and dream and not take us to distant places on Earth, but to the stars.