el·e·gi·ac [el-i-jahy–uhk, -ak, ih-lee-jee-ak] –adjective
1. used in, suitable for, or resembling an elegy.
2. expressing sorrow or lamentation: elegiac strains.
This seemed an appropriate week for the word elegy. Most notably, the ending of the NASA shuttle missions.
When you google ‘NASA’ and read the stories of the ending, the regret seems to be primarily over the loss of jobs and the loss of America’s role as a prominent space pioneer. These are definitely losses.
I have not seen much addressing the loss of the wonder that was NASA’s shuttle program. The first orbital flight of the shuttle launched on April 12, 1981, described by NASA as “the boldest flight test in history”. The opening words of Star Trek:
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Sorry, Kirk, it seems as though your reality may never be. Science fiction turns into science fact easily. The visions of the future by great artists and writers, these have been brought to reality by creative scientists: engineers, physicists and designers. We now fly around the world in one long day. We build robots that seem human. We go 10,000 leagues under the sea and to the stars…or at least until lately.
It is a sad development. Without science exploration, who will supply the dreamers? How can we colonize Mars or see existence beyond our solar system? Humans have stared at the stars and wondered for thousands of years. And, finally, finally when we have the capability to move into that great beyond, that final frontier…we turn our faces away. We lower our eyes from the stars to the ground. We may wonder, but there are more immediate worries: unemployment, the debt crisis, and so on.
No one disputes that these are worrisome problems. But to see NASA as only a dump for millions of dollars, when we spend far greater money on wars we cannot win, that is grievously short-sighted.
We have 101 ways to kill a man, but no longer any way to take him to the stars.