We are, as Carl Sagan said, a nomadic species. At the dawn of every new technological achievement, we as humans consistently put our new innovations toward traversing unknown frontiers. From crafting sailing vessels to brave the boundless oceans, to creating and navigating the digital plains of the Internet, humankind has a natural propensity for exploration. Now, with the oceans charted and national boundaries drawn, the final beckoning adventure lies beyond the clouds, among the myriad clusters of stars and planets.
However, a tragic flaw in our current society of complacent pioneers is the mindset that all the worthwhile frontiers have been explored, that there are more pressing matters than the worlds beyond our own. For countless reasons, I am of the opinion that this mindset is not only unfortunate, but endlessly detrimental to humanity as a whole.
The value of space travel was impressed on me at a young age. While my introduction to intergalactic exploration was informal, it left a lasting impact. These lessons in bravery and adventure were held weekly, not counting reruns. I am, of course, referring to the TV show Star Trek.
I grew up watching episodes of Star Trek through its many incarnations (particularly The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise) and was struck early on by an overarching theme that stretched across the many seasons: the sincere love for adventure and exploration. Star Trek, for all its schmaltz and camp, has at its heart a very real passion for discovery and an enduring faith in man’s untapped potential, as well as his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. It is Star Trek that presented me with the idea that, as the inhabitants of Earth step out into the vast realm of space, we must take that step as a people united or else we will fail.
Particularly taking into account the existence of countless other sentient species, mankind would have to recognize how necessary it is to cease fighting amongst ourselves. In the Star Trek universe, humanity makes a conscious decision to end war. Only then are we able to become a spacefaring people. Inherent in this show are lessons to take to heart and standards to aspire to. This show inspired me to think beyond this world and reach for the next.
I’m sure that my exposure to Star Trek is directly related to why I place such value on our nation’s space program. When I was younger, I naïvely assumed that the rest of society would understand the value of interstellar exploration. Naturally, I was confused when I first heard the argument that we as a society must first focus on the problems here on Earth before we begin to think of exploring other worlds. After all, some would argue, we have hunger, poverty, and countless other social problems to battle.
Distressed by this mindset, I relayed this assertion to my dad. He assured me that this was not a new argument. Proponents of this outlook shook their banners in 1961 when President Kennedy challenged the nation to do the impossible and set foot on the Moon, my dad told me.
I have since concluded that while these socially-minded individuals may have the best of intentions, what they are inadvertently doing is smothering the long-term development of the human race for the sake of short-term socio-political gain. Yes, laws can be amended, statutes instituted, sanctions and promises made, but these are as impermanent and as susceptible to change as the individuals who craft them. While the benefits of spaceflight are many, the real reward of intergalactic exploration is in the venture itself.
Space travel is a matter of rising beyond our earthly confines, limitations, and shortcomings. The spirit of exploration is fueled by the idea that we can become so much more than we are now. We have witnessed man’s immense capacity to rise to the occasion countless times in history, not the least of which was the moment when a nation in the midst of war and civil strife took the first step into the vast, untamed frontier of space.
As the great playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Gazing skyward can help us make the choice to make the best of our imperfect society and forge ahead for the betterment of mankind.
As we traverse the infinite reaches of space and happen upon new planets, solar systems, and, perhaps, new life forms, our own world becomes that much smaller. I can only hope that furthering our reach into the cosmos will lead us to understand how vital it is that we approach this beckoning frontier as a species united.
Our petty squabbles amongst ourselves amount to nothing when measured against the humbling, awe-inspiring wonders of the universe. The waiting mysteries of space promise a brighter future for all of mankind. I hope that one day all of mankind will come to realize this so that we may all live long and prosper.