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viewpoint

Take a hint from NASA

| Friday, September 19, 2014

It can be easy, in the wake of everything that’s being talked about in the news these days, to get awfully depressed. Domestic violence and child abuse in the NFL. Another ground war looms in the Middle East. Threats of terror attacks from ISIS and other formless yet nefarious entities. On the surface, it seems like a pretty rough time in the world.

But in the wake of all of this troubling and disheartening news, one little bright story slipped through the cracks: we might be going into space again.

In 2011, 30 years after its inception, NASA’s manned-flight shuttle program was retired. The move frustrated and saddened many, as it seemed to mark the end of an era. The days of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Sally Ride were seemingly over. But earlier this week, for the first time in three years, there were talks of putting Americans back in space. NASA recently announced that it had awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to certify, test and fly their new space capsules. There is already talk of commercial space flight, which is something for which SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has advocated.

Admittedly, with the news of the partnership only just being announced, it would be silly to start predicting or automatically assuming that by the end of the month we’ll have American-funded space flights to Venus. These things take time. It is going to be a while before anything advances beyond the “theoretical” stage.

But to only focus on the “bottom line” is to miss the point entirely. NASA and space travel isn’t just about getting an end result — a tidy number at the end of a quarterly report. It’s about that old feeling of exhilaration in discovery, much like the sea-faring explorers who discovered the New World or even when Neil Armstrong took one small step for man yet one giant leap for mankind on the moon. Too often, we hear the powers that be or the establishment wringing their hands and exclaiming that we should set our sights on the feasible, on the attainable. Don’t be foolish. Don’t study that, it’s a waste of your time. There’s no money in that field, why are you even bothering?

NASA and space travel says that it’s okay to be imaginative. It’s okay to envision the possibilities. It’s alright to embrace and take on the great unknown, because that’s how we’ve managed to progress as a species over the centuries. Who knows what the future of manned flight will bring? It’s hard to say, but now we know that it’s fine to dream.

And considering how things are today, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to start dreaming about the impossible again.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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