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Why we go "out there"

By Alan Caruba
web posted February 3, 2003

I am fortunate to have a large circle of friends who do not hesitate to share their views with me. When you're a professional pundit, that's useful because one tends to agree with oneself unless subject to correction. So it is, when I asked them whether the space program is a luxury of sorts, they all reminded me that it is the nature of man to explore his frontiers. They are right, of course.

The Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 16 on her last voyage
The Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 16 on her last voyage

As one put it, "we're not supposed to be flying around in metal tubes above the Earth or in the depths of the oceans, but we do." We go where no man has been before because, as the Star Trek stories remind us, man always wants to know what's "out there."

Out there was where Marco Polo went, discovering the civilization of China. Out there was where Drake and Cook took their wooden ships into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. Out there was where Christopher Columbus went. Out there used to be beyond the Mississippi, so Lewis and Clarke mapped it for President Jefferson. Out there was the North and South Pole.

Now "out there" is outer space. We started going because President Kennedy said we would put a man on the moon. We did.

Many years ago, I visited the space center in Florida to do an article on some aspect of its operation. I visited the Columbia. It was very big. I don't think you can get a sense of its size unless you stand in proximity to it. Putting it into space is comparable to lifting the entire building free of Earth's gravity. You don't forget things like standing on the launching pad and gazing up to the heights of its towers and seeing the vehicle assembly building. At one and the same time, you realize what tiny creatures we humans are and you realize how astonishing our achievements have been.

We may never know what happened to Columbia, but we know that, as long as there is an "out there", people will get into these crafts and surge beyond "the surly bonds of Earth" to explore, to conduct scientific experiments, to just look at the tiny blue ball the human race calls home.

We are very good at exploring, but we still haven't figured out why some men are just so plain evil there is no alternative but to kill them. We know a lot about outer space and yet the interior places of the heart remain a mystery to us.

Alan Caruba writes "Warning Signs", a weekly column posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, 2003

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