feonixrift: (Default)
[personal profile] feonixrift
I should have something to say. This is the sort of occasion when I really should, and I've thought of things to say all day, thought of them for so long that they'll largely remain unsaid.

40 years ago, we briefly touched the Moon. Today, we're on Mars. The robots that my software said had a significant chance of not making it a full 90 days, are still running. But we haven't touched Mars. There is no human who can tell us how it feels to stand on Mars and watch the dust swirl at sunset, or let its pebbles sift through their gloved hands. We've left tracks there, but no footprints.

But we've not only touched space, we've stayed. A space station exists, a manned one. It may not be everything that we dreamed of, but it's a start. The truth of the expedition to space is a dirty and detailed one, filled with emergency evacuations in the face of meteor pebble threats and puddles of slime mold in the walls. So what if it doesn't exactly match the fiction, the narrative spun to get us there, it's an amazing achievement.

That very difference is one of the core purposes of the narrative of exploration. It provides the clarity at a distance which is otherwise easily lost in the million details required to actually get there. Hopes and dreams of the stars, rather than the nauseating realization that any number of mistakes could have left the astronauts on Apollo 11 dead, or stranded and then dead. We could have left corpses on the moon. Fortunately, we didn't.

Unfortunately, narrative can also do the opposite. It can fuel the fears, remind us that space is cold, dark and silent. Give a sense that perhaps it would be best if humans just stayed on Earth. Explore a little maybe, with robots, but mainly stay home. Where it's safe. You could die crossing the street tomorrow, or die in a seal malfunction halfway to Mars. Or live, either way.

I don't think fueling astrophobic views of safety helps anything. Especially on the societal level. There are plenty of people who would take a risk to get into space, who would love to be the first to shake hands with a real honest alien on a real honest alien world, even if it meant a chance of catching real honest alien smallpox. Bold, courageous, curious people. The sort we should honor, not cage for their own safety. Even if that cage is the entire Earth.
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February 2012

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