Now that the Nobel Prizewinning President Barack Obama—who campaigned for the White House on fervent opposition to two wars—is leading the United States into a third conflict involving the “Religion of Peace,” perhaps this isn’t the best time to bring this up. However, timing has never been my strong suit.
While the U.S. started lobbing cruise missiles into Libya over the weekend, another story, one which didn’t involve the Obama Administration campaigning for the Nobel Prize for Duplicity, broke across the newswires:
For the first time in human history an object sent from the third rock from the sun has entered orbit around the first rock from the sun. The MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) probe, which departed these climes in 2004, signaled its successful orbital insertion around the planet Mercury.
This is Mercury as viewed from the Earth. Actually, this is the Sun, with Mercury in transit across its face (it’s the TINY round dot in the lower middle-right of the image.)
If nothing else, that image ought to give you a sense of humility; a glimpse of the idea that on a cosmic scale, we are smaller than the higher-order thinking section of Lawrence O’Donnell’s brain.
MESSENGER cost $280 million. Should it have been proposed for these tight economic times I suspect it would have disappeared from the budget as quickly as a box of Ho Hos® disappears from Rosie O’Donnell’s kitchen. But consider this: I’m glad we went.
While it is fair to suggest that a mission to Mercury may not solve the crises of the world, I would posit that MESSENGER, like much of the space program, serves a metaphysical purpose.
The space program reminds us of limitlessness. Seven centuries ago civilization was barely aware of the world outside its own door. In some cases, even guessing at the unseen could result in ridicule, arrest, or even earthly perdition. But some were undeterred, and the Age of Exploration bore out their dreams to the great benefit of the same world which questioned their goals. As recently as 1969, when Neil Armstrong took those fateful first steps, Man was still reaching beyond his grasp.
From Polo to Galileo to Aldrin, the real explorers delivered human “firsts” on an eternal scale. And while MESSENGER was expensive, it’s another first which is worth celebrating.
In the age of the media-invented superstars, in which Paris Hilton and Barack Obama can climb to Olympian heights on the backs of—not to mention in the rightful place of—the more talented, the more qualified and/or the more deserving; moments like MESSENGER hearken back to those heady days of the Age of Exploration, when accomplishment meant more than sound bites and photo-ops. Missions like MESSENGER remind us all of the big dreams which carried humanity through far darker times. There are no “K-Feds” in the heavens. “Jersey Shore” isn’t on; and “The Situation” and the gang couldn’t fix their hair in zero-gee.
Out THERE, Hollywood blowhards can’t lecture us on our lack of compassion while they teeter around on the red carpet dressed in clothing which could feed a family for a year. Oliver Stone and Sean Penn can’t vomit their venomous vitriol out there—there’s no air. Al Gore’s junk science sideshow wouldn’t last amidst the real warmth of the solar wind.
And while the effort “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” is enormously expensive, so is the Department of Education; and I don’t remember anyone saying “When I grow up, I want to be a layabout union thug.” Of course, I don’t remember anyone saying “I want to be a mouth-breathing parasite who’s famous for being famous,” but “Snooki” got a book published, meaning she has admirers.
During his State of the Union speech in January, Obama said “we do big things.” Actually, Mr. President, we do an astronomical number of small things, and occasional medium-sized things. And we don’t do most of them particularly well. But we can.
I believe we can return the triumph of the human spirit to the American vocabulary. I believe that while exploration can sometimes be irrational, discovery is ALWAYS magical. At the very least, let’s return to our children the sense of wonder that comes from dreaming big and doing bigger.
Call it “the audacity of hope.” Actually, don’t call it that. That sounds like some hackneyed Democrat campaign slogan.
At the very least, let’s remind them there are greater aspirations than being a community organizer.