Space Shuttle Endeavour as it crosses the Trophosphere (orange), Stratosphere (white) and then the Mesosphere (blue) on mission STS-130.
Imagine, for a moment, we’d never been to space. The Russians had never sent up Laika, Gagarin had never orbited the Earth and Neil Armstrong was just a man from Ohio who , for a while, was a fighter test pilot. Imagine the vast difference that the world would view Space with. It would still be this void, a vast, unknowing thing that we would only look up at and wonder what it was, really, and the questions of life on other planets would be almost impossible to answer.
I can’t imagine what this would be like. In my life all I have known is that we’ve been up into Space, continuously, using the Space Shuttles and, in my life, we have had some incredible changes of thought. I remember reading in a Space book that my parents had got me as a child that “man will likely be back to the moon early in the 21st Century and we might still yet, but money is something that will always be a little difficult to come by for projects like these.
This week, Space Shuttle Discovery became the first of the fleet to retire officially and start it’s decommissioning. I feel eternally sad at the prospect that it will never fly again, but I understand why. The shuttles have a design life that has been exceeded and they are due to be retired but, for a while, they might very have been the most incredible engineering feats on the planet. Imagine telling someone in 1961 that by 1986 we would be sending humans, 7 of them, back and forth from space in a craft that lands like a plane. It’s truly visionary and shouldn’t be taken for granted that we, as an intelligent species, have managed to leave our planet and travel beyond our existence, even for a brief moment, and gazed into the vast of infinity. It’s awe inspiring.
So yes, it’s sad, but also an important step towards going back to the moon and the to Mars. Over the last few years instead of sending people on these long and dangerous, for they are very, missions to far off places we have been using technology that allows us to go but not go – robots have given us some of the most astonishing findings, as well as probes sent further than we can even comprehend. Take the fact that we, almost certainly, know now that there’s liquid methane in our solar system that acts like water. Think that we now know that some of Saturn’s rings are made from water, frozen in the wastes of space. Imagine that, in the future, we find bacteria from extra-terrestrial life. Imagine so far into the future it hurts your brain and you think that maybe we have met other space faring species. The physics allows it, the odds of the universe allows it, the age of the universe... kinda restricts it, but even still.
We are alive during the formative years of those explorations. I am very sad to see the Space Shuttle program start to end, but I am even more excited about the prospect of us going even further than we have gone before, to paraphrase the most famous non-space going Captain of a Spaceship we’ve ever had.
All of this excitement and lust is partially satiated by the playing of Mass Effect, I’ll admit.