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.
Maybe I am wrong, but I think the technology is out there. I think we need the torch to be lit by someone with a passion, just as Columbus had, to search and explore and take a risk. Yes, a mission to Mars would be risky for humans, but that has never stopped us before. Humans have climbed the highest mountains, gone down deep under the blue sea, and have walked on the moon. Risk has not stopped us before and should not stop us now.
What would a trip to Mars do for us, you might ask? Well, there is a need for a game plan for humans down the road. We need a place to which we can take ourselves when earth becomes more inhospitable. Humans also require space to roam and wander, and think of Mars as not only a place to live someday but also as the ultimate tourist destination. Also, now that we know how to live responsibly and not ruin an environment, we can view Mars as the pristine place where we can put into action all we have learned from our mistakes.
Right now we need someone to step up and be willing to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before. We need a president who will listen and take the chance, and we need private funding to get the spaceship built as soon as possible. Most of all, we need a new Columbus to come forward and lead us into a new tomorrow.
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