Friday, July 8, 2011

I will never be an astronaut

I will never be an astronaut
which is a dream I didn't even know I had until today. The last launch of the space shuttle was today, and watching the astronauts suit-up made me bawl. I don't know why. I hate heights, I hate flying, even. But to be able to taste that feral, untamed edge of the world, to see the positive curvature of the earth falling away, to have all the stars exposed and naked, to see the glow of the planet below cutting across a sky so black it aches...

I didn't know I wanted those things. But they'll never be mine now. And in 5 years, or 10, we'll go to space again, and I'll have missed my chance, and a whole generation will grow up without knowing what that dream is reaching for, without knowing what it means to break through the boundaries of human existance and fly just that little bit further into the vast unbroken emptiness of space.

Hubble is dying. That's the nature of a telescope--there's only so much maintenance that can be done, only so many repairs. Kind of like a car--eventually, even if you replace every component in it, it will fall apart. It's not a piece that's broken. It's everything wearing down. Old age. Chandra is dead, and Spitzer is dying. WMAP is running its course. We have reached the end of the great space telescope era, and that burns even more than the loss of space flight. To think of all the things left in the universe to see and to understand--to think of the inspiration, the portal into the most alien of realms that Hubble gave us, and to know that in 5 or 10 years we will not even be close to seeing anything like that again--that's a deeper, bitter hurt. The James Webb Space Telescope has had its funding slashed, fallen victim to the partisan politics that cater only to money. I know it's a small thing in the face of the poverty, illness, and ignorance that the politics also fosters--but it is a terrible blow to the future. I cannot think but that it is a bad idea to sacrifice the future for the moment.

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