Monday, 30 May 2011


Regular readers (ha!) of my twitter will be aware that I have been monitoring the last space shuttle missions almost religiously. Why?

Image from Spaceflight Now

Well, as I look at the incredible achievement of not only those brave men piloting Endeavour back home from her last encounter with the International Space Station but also the dedicated ground crews at Mission Control, the teams of engineers and visionaries from dozens of co-operating nations responsible for contributions spanning almost every boundary imaginable, I think it is immensely important to remember what it is we have done there as a species. Our ventures out of our atmosphere are not only a testament to our potential, our ambition and determination, but also to our deep-rooted need, a spiritual one, I believe- to feel a part of something far bigger and greater than ourselves. To feel that we are becoming better, growing and learning. What I believe the exploration of space provides, beyond the knowledge and the wonder and the beauty of the curve of the earth turning slowly beneath a patchwork space station is the one thing we need the most. Hope.

You only have to look at the news for the briefest of moments to drown in evidence of just how far we have to go and how much we have yet to learn and relearn until finally it sticks- but in the sight of those majestic machines, each a silhouette of potential itself standing tall and poised on the launchpad, and then with a tiny point of light whirling overhead at 7,706.6 metres a second, we've made a small but significant start.

And then I remembered this quote from Carl Sagan, which probably says everything I want to say:

In our tenure on this planet we've accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders — all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we've also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and desire to learn from history and experience, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet Earth. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us...
National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.

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