I ordinarily follow rules. If I'm supposed to write a blog entry about sex and violence, I do that. If I'm supposed to write about a rock, I do that. Today, I am a rebel. If you want to read about sex and violence, watch this space. My fellow LadyKillers will be talking about those things all week long. I want to talk about the power of human curiosity
It has been a few days since the passing of Neil Armstrong and the media furor that reminded us of his remarkable life is dying down. Let's face it. As a species, we have a short attention span. The fact that most of the world still knew Neil Armstrong's name, when he had spent 43 years avoiding the limelight that he had duly earned, is a fair measure of what he did and what his accomplishment symbolized. When a thinking person considers the life of Neil Armstrong, he or she can only have one response. "My God. We sent people to the moon and brought them safely home ."
We forget so easily. If you want a good face-full of NASA's accomplishments in the 1960s, take a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Stick your head inside a claustrophic command module and look at the controls. They look about as high-tech as the dashboard of a 1960s Ford. Then ponder the fact that this vehicle and the rockets that threw it to the moon were designed with slide rules. Those spacesuits? Were they molded from futuristic materials like the outfits worn by faux-heroes in today's comic book movies? No. They were made by human hands using sewing machines. Ladies and gentleman, if Neil Armstrong and the team supporting him could do what they did in 1969, then we as a species can do anything. We simply have to want it badly enough. And, like Neil Armstrong, we have to possess the courage to risk everything in the pursuit of something worthwhile.
There are those who question our investment in space exploration, pointing out that the money could be used to take care of people who are in need. I do not question the value of helping people in need, and I vote accordingly. There are other expenditures I'd like to see cut in favor of funding science, but my intent here is not to talk politics. And, though I believe that NASA has paid back our investment in terms of technologies and materials that make all our lives better in ways so pervasive that we have ceased to notice them, I am not going to do a cost-benefit analysis in terms of dollars and cents. I would much rather balance the ledger that measures inspiration against the status quo.
If our president were to announce, "We choose to be free of nonsustainable fuels in this decade not because it is easy, but because it is 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," I believe we could do it, and I believe our country is not the only one that would take up the challenge. (Picture me tipping my hat to President Kennedy as I type this.) If he or she were to say, "We choose to free humanity of hunger, because it is within our reach," I believe we could do that, too.
Cynics believe that we are fueled as individuals by the desire for money and things, but they underestimate the power of the human imagination. Money buys us the toys we use to distract ourselves when our lives are empty of dreams. Right now, I think our society needs a dream.
I cannot tell you how happy I am that a human-made thing name Curiosity is running around Mars right now.