We’ve spent the last 50 years blasting rockets into outer space, and all we have to show for it is a commemorative coin.
Okay, okay, I know. That’s not all we have to show for it. We have things like satellite television, and the Weather Channel, and Google Maps. We also have military satellites spying on Americans right here in the United States.
For the amount that we’ve invested in the space program, we’ve got some nice door prizes. The trouble is, there really isn’t that much through the door. It’s just a big empty room.
SETI has been looking for signs of intelligent, technological extraterrestrial life for a long while now, and they haven’t found zip. There are no Martians, and it’s likely that there never were. The International Space Station is a station to nowhere.
We’ve got souvenirs, but we could have gotten most of them staying right back here on Earth. What we never really got was a true Space Age. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 came and went, and remained fiction. There is no Star Fleet. Space travel for civilians remains nothing more than a multi-million dollar roller coaster ride that is perpetually not quite ready to leave the ground.
The House of Representatives passed H.R.6455 yesterday. It’s a bill that requires the Treasury Department to mint a coin commemorating NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Note that the coin celebrates NASA – but what has NASA done for us?
No, it’s not fair to say that NASA has done nothing for us, but is what they’ve done worth a coin? Maybe it’s worth a gold watch.
We went to the Moon, and found it dusty. We went to Mars, and found it rusty. The big news from Mars is that there is some water there. Water… you know the stuff… it’s that liquid that covers most of the Earth’s surface.
It turns out that space is mostly just space. It goes on, and on, and on, and on. Maybe there are some slugs or weird things or breathing slime living on a few other planets, or maybe they don’t exist. We’ll never know.
Sure, I was curious to see what might be out there. I remember the excitement that came with Voyager spacecraft’s fuzzy photos of the planets. But, gosh, Pluto isn’t even a planet any more. It’s just a sort of pair of big rocks that are really dark and cold now.
Some people, in groups like the Planetary Society, are afraid that if we don’t leave planet Earth and colonize outer space, the human race could be wiped out in a great cataclysm. They’re right. Humanity could well die out, along with all other life on Earth. Then again, isn’t that what’s going to happen to every living thing anyway? We’re all going to die – and space travel won’t stop that.
There are some good astronomers and other space scientists who are honest about the scope of their work, and I don’t want to devalue what they do. For the rest of us, though, I’m afraid that outer space has become a blank canvas that, when stared at for long enough, becomes a scrim for whatever it is that we’re seeking and not finding here on our own planet.
It’s fine to keep up the genuine space science, but the time for dreams is done. Even our earthbound visions are falling apart, and they’re not dying out as the result of anything dramatic, like a giant asteroid strike. They’re just wimpering their way toward oblivion.
Sometimes the answer to a mystery is that there’s nothing there, and never has been. Sometimes, all there is to discover is that there’s nothing to discover.