Nov 10, 2004

"Let's light this candle..."

The Planetary Society announced on November 9 (Carl Sagan's birthday) that they're going to try to launch Cosmos 1, "the world's first solar sail spacecraft", on March 1 of next year. I wish them all the luck in the world, because this is the type of cool stuff that I'd like to see scientists work on (although you'd think the Planetary Society people could put a SKIP button on their Cosmos 1's unwieldy Flash site).

Oh, I'm a space geek, no doubt about it. Not so much so that I can actually get past the math required for astronomy (and Maxwell's Equations made my head explode in engineering classes, thank you very much), but I've always dug space travel. And this has been a pretty good year for space heads: the Mars rovers kicked ass, Cassini got there, and someone won the X-Prize. Hell, even when Genesis did a header (and I watched that during my lunch hour via broadband), the samples weren't lost.

But I grew up on this stuff, and not just the diet of Trek and Anglicized anime like Star Blazers and Battle of the Planets. I remember the news-break for kids that they had between CBS cartoons talking about Skylab taking a header. I remember Carl Sagan's Cosmos on channel 13. I remember the first shuttle flight.

And, of course, there was Challenger. My first reaction about hearing the news was that the crew escaped, right? I mean, what decent space ship doesn't have escape pods?

That was a hard hit. So was Columbia. And NASA's had a lot of problems recently. There will probably be a sea-change in the way it works, and every now and then you hear people asking the point of space exploration and travel.

But I hope, one way or another, we never stop reaching for the stars.

Because the day we stop is the day we commit ourselves to being a race of bean-counters and middle managers.