When I was a little girl, one of my many career aspirations was to be an astronaut. When I wasn’t dreaming of dinosaurs or teaching or writing, I wanted to go into space forever (I’m still mad at myself for never applying to be sent to Mars). My father and I would lay out in his mother’s small backyard on Long Island and wait for what he always insisted was the International Space Station to appear and travel across the sky, a steadily glowing star crawling from the top of the tree where we hung wasp traps over to the roof of her little two-bedroom-plus-attic-and-basement cape house.
I wanted to go into space and soar away forever, I suppose. But with the exception of the Mars mission that hasn’t happened yet and will probably be postponed for decades, space exploration doesn’t even accomplish that. We shoot some objects out into space to roam until they die a fiery galactic death or simply fall to pieces and disappear or are swallowed by an immensely lonely black hole, or we boomerang missiles up towards the heavens that quickly return to circle our home planet.
How incredibly weird must this look?
Imagine it. You’re some fantastic alien being, capable of looking out into space and actually seeing something, and you happen to notice that Planet Earth, once in a very great while, emits an object. With a bit more frequency, it will toss a piece of matter away from itself, than quickly draw it back in. What is it doing? Playing a pathetic game of 1-man catch? What could possibly be the point of this behavior?
On that note: what is the point of what we’re actually doing? No wonder there are budget cuts to our space programs. This is ridiculous. Let’s just shoot money out into space! Throw it into the skies! But on the flipside—at least we aren’t using it to cause destruction here. I’d rather we waste some cash trading questions for answers (or more questions) while all the strife on the ground continues as it always will, than not dream of touching the stars and still live on this lonely rock.
If we do look like idiots, firing hunks of metal out into space only to have most of them appear to fall back on our heads—well, if no one is watching, then we can play it cool and act like it never happened. And if anyone is watching, then we can at least rest assured that we aren’t the only ones looking skyward. One day, we might see something worthwhile.