The Surly Bonds of Earth

“‘Cause it’s next. ‘Cause we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.”

Sam Seaborn, The West Wing, “Galileo”

A little over thirty years ago, I stood in the parking lot of Union Park Junior High School and watched a tiny white dot start a new era on a column of fire.

This morning, I sat in my TV-glow-lit living room and watched another white dot end that era with the sound of thunder.

As of about 6:00am this morning, the United States is where it was fifty years ago:  grounded and watching others reach for the stars.  Not from a lack of knowledge or experience, but from a lack of foresight and ambition.  And while there’s not a cold war or space race to win, it certainly feels like something has been lost.  Maybe it’s our sense of striving for something great.  Maybe it’s our drive that sent us over the next river, the next mountain, the next ocean.  Whatever it is, we are weaker for its absence.

We threw away the moon.  Now we’re on the verge of throwing away the cosmos itself.  If not going back to the moon was Columbus never returning to the New World, this is him dismantling his ships and never even getting back on the ocean.

We need the challenge of space.  We need the innovations our quest for the stars has produced.  But what’s more, we need the inspiration that comes from seeing mankind embark on an undertaking so vast, so seemingly impossible that, no matter how many times we’ve seen it, it still pulls our gaze to the sky.  The space program has given us awe and wonder and hope and dreams and heroes.

And now it gives us empty launchpads and darkened skies.

For years, there were fewer and fewer of us who could remember a world where the U.S. wasn’t searching skyward.  Sadly, as of today, there will only be more and more.


2 Responses to The Surly Bonds of Earth

  1. tmso says:

    I feel your pain, but the Columbus analog leaves a bad taste in my mouth (think of what the native American’s thought, and think of WHY he sailed – not to discover new lands, but to beat folks to the money).
    I think that we, as a people, as a government, shouldn’t let the space program in this country be handed over to private ventures, but at the same time maybe the space shuttle program has seen its day. I’d like to see NASA take this as a opportunity to re-focus and build a foundation for something better.
    Of course, we could have kept it going if only we could have re-allocated some of DOD’s defense budget over to NASA, but that’s like asking our elected representatives to reach for the moon. 🙄

  2. Richard Dickson says:

    Yeah, the Columbus analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s the most common one I hear used.

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