February 5, 2003

spitting into space

Sgt. Stryker’s got words on the space program. His conclusion? Do all those 7-year-olds out there proud. Go for Mars. Now.

Come to think of it, that may be why space and I had a falling out. Despite a probe here and a probe there (I remember being obsessed about the Mars Pathfinder mission, and throwing fits when the paper didn’t cover it, and checking out ‘sites’ on this newfangled thing called the ‘internet’) I started to realize that nothing was really happening. Nothing has happened in my lifetime. We’ve got pictures, we’ve got probes, but we’re still only flingin’ mankind as far as a low-earth orbit will take ’em.

I went to Space Camp when I was 12 and it was a real letdown. We built a pyramid in a swimming pool. We played on see-saws that were supposedly ‘astronaut training facilities’. The counselors stole my candy and hid it in the bathtub. We faked a shuttle mission and I got stuck in mission control with two scripted lines. All the cool kids got to play around in the shuttle all day. They made sure to give us ample time to visit the gift shop and buy International Space Station Apparel. I got a neat looking shirt, and one adult ruined my day by telling me, “That’s not what it’s going to look like.”

We built model rockets, and that pissed me off royally. I build model rockets when I was 7-years-old living in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Can’t you do better than MODEL rockets at SPACE CAMP in FLORIDA? We used cheap glue, no paint, and rushed the whole project to make launch in some sandlot at the end of the week. Most kids’ rockets fell apart on their first journey. I threw some ants in my rocket’s payload to liven things up.

Where’s the human interest? Where’s the focus? Where’s the drive? I stopped caring after I realized that everything I cared about, everything I thought the space program stood for, were all lies, lies, lies. It became clear that I wasn’t going to visit the moon. I wasn’t going into space. I wasn’t going to live on a space station. I was going to be stuck right here on the ground with all the other huddled masses, gazing up at a point where we knew mankind had been, but now no longer cared to go.

Rivers of sulfur on Venus? Giant volcanoes on Io? Underground seas on Europa? We’ve got pictures and they’re all fine and dandy, but pictures are just a bone to chew on. Nothing but throwaway answers in a trivia game. There’s no meat there to hold my interest. Forty years down the line, I want to be playing a Trivial Pursuit game that asks me who crossed the river of sulfur, and who climbed the volcanoes of Io, and who pissed in the underground sea.

Once, just once, I want to see mankind write his name in the snow on another planet.