Reaching for the Stars

I watched the launch of the Orion rocket this morning…and it brought back a little “thrill” in my soul which I thought was long gone.

How well I remember the early days of the “space race” between the United States and the USSR. The Russians beat us to the punch with “Sputnik” and the first man in outer space was Yuri Gagarin…back in April of 1961. Our first man in space was Alan Shepherd, who launched a month behind the Russians on May 5th of 1961. President Kennedy stood before America only 20 days later and said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

And so we were off and running, and on July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. No other country has ever put a man there.

We have gone through many years since then, with other programs taking the place of “deep space” travel. The Space shuttle program…the space station.

All of that was exciting, but not something which would serve to inspire the soul.

Now with the Orion program, humanity seems to be pointed out towards the depth of space again. Away from the Earth, out into the unknown and unknowable. Out to perhaps one day have humanity set foot on another world.

I’m a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I loved Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. I also liked less well known authors also, like Frank Herbert and later on Orson Scott Card. But it was mainly Heinlein who really put the reader out there amongst the stars. I really “grokked” his books.

This morning as Orion rose into the sky I thought of a quote I had read from author Norman Cousins, who became famous for “laughing” himself back to health:

To be able to rise from the earth;

to be able, from a station in outer space,

to see the relationship of the planet earth to other planets;

to be able to contemplate the billions of factors in precise and beautiful combination that make human existence possible;

to be able to dwell on an encounter of the human brain and spirit with the universe—

all this enlarges the human horizon . . .

— Norman Cousins, 1973

Hopefully this morning, the United States, and perhaps the entire world again took its first baby step towards a hopeful ultimate destiny of reaching the stars and the planets surrounding them, and “going where no man has gone before.”

Wisdom

Wisdom comes with a price. Sometimes the price is age. Yes oh yes…age! Yet many well minded but weak bodied elderly are buried long before they die!

Sometimes the price is pain. Sometimes the price is sacrifice and sometimes it is study. Sometimes wisdom comes with love which requires no reciprocation, and the price is humility. Sometimes it comes with giving which requires no acknowledgement, and the price is anonymity.

Some people gain more wisdom quickly because they are open to the ideas and opinions of others. Wisdom is hard to find in a mind made up to the certainty of all things, at the expense of the independent thought of others. Wisdom is understanding, and understanding can only be determined by the compassion to consider even some things with which you may not agree. Wisdom is respect shown until respect is no longer given.

I wish I were wise enough to be a problem solver instead of an observer. One day I hope to be that problem solver.

I’m working hard on it. I’ve got the age part down pat, but that’s the irony isn’t it? That’s the Catch-22 of human life!

Some of the other qualities continue to escape me, and probably always will due to my nature. God help me, because some days I cannot help myself.

New York City-Summer of ‘74

Once back in the summer of 1974, I spent the night right in the center of Spanish Harlem in New York City. The marimbas were playing all through the night, and people were singing, dancing and cooking, because it was a Saturday night. There were screams of joy, and a few of pain. I slept well that night, with the smell of the spicy food creeping into my dreams and making me famished for breakfast.

We had been to the site of the newly built, soon to be opened World Trade Center earlier that evening, and had been invited to go up part of the way in an elevator by a construction foreman. There were four of us young men: a long tall Texas boy, an African American former college football player from Kentucky, our bespectacled New York native Peace Corp member…in whose apartment we were staying, and me…the backwoods Georgia boy.

We rode the subways, visited the harbor where lady liberty stood, and got hot dogs at Coney Island. Nobody had a bad word to say to us, never disparaged our little mixed group, or even looked at us funny. We went about the town fearlessly, never anticipating any harm or trouble. Just three out of towner’s getting shown the ropes by the city boy.

Those lights, music and smells from that night still bubble to the top of my memory from time to time, and I wonder how the world has gotten so much more callous and hateful in forty short years. I’d like to go back in time once again and look out over the lights of Manhattan from those soon to be opened, ill fated towers and yell out to the people below to stay the same as they were.