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.”

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