On this Columbus Day I have been thinking about what Christopher Columbus did, and sometimes I have wondered what would have happened if he didn’t do it. Obviously, at some point someone would have strayed too far, and a European would have found the Americas. Perhaps it would have been a hundred or more years later, and that would have changed history in many ways.
Some people have blamed Columbus for things that came after his discovery. We talk about pre-Columbian Art, how the Americas were a paradise before the white man corrupted and ruined it, and so on. These perspectives are necessary in the conversation about Columbus, and there is no argument here because many of the changes that followed his arrival on San Salvador in the Bahamas were not favorable to the Native Americans who lived here, but there is no changing the past.
No matter how you may feel about him, there is also no disputing that what Columbus did changed the world forever. As I think about him, I believe that we need a new Columbus – now more than ever. We need someone to light a fire, to inspire us to make exploration of space by humans not just a far away possibility, not something seen in movies or on TV; we need a new Columbus and we need him now.
Can you imagine some daring explorer with a dream appearing before President Obama and Mrs. Obama at a White House dinner? Just as Columbus once wooed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain with his vision, this explorer would hold up some handheld device and shoot a projection of his planned voyage on the wall. He or she would explain how the trip to Mars would go, that there would be indeed be a wealth of reasons to fund the expedition, and that it should happen within Mr. Obama’s presidency, not some future time when his children’s children might witness it.