The Space Obligation

23 Sep 2011

Stephen M. Hackett talks about the embarassaing state of NASA:

While NASA’s shuttle program may not have been everything it as supposed to be, it is hard to disagree with these guys that the shuttle is better than nothing.

I am a romantic. I think that venturing into the unknown should be undetaken for the act of discovery and that we should shine light into darkness, if only to discovery that there is nothing there.

A few years ago, I wrote the piece that is below. I had intented to turn it into the prologue of something bigger and grander. That never happened. Instead, it has sat, ignored, in my writing folder. Hackett’s post reminded me of it and I’ve decided that to share put it out into the world rather than keep it to myself.

The Space Obligation

When we were children we looked to space, to the planets and the stars, and to the worlds beyond our own. The vast charted continents of Earth were meaningless to us, because they had already been seen by pryring eyes. On our planet, there was nothing alien. We wanted the stars because anything was possible beyond them.

This drive is what has fueled all of humanity’s ventures into space: from Icarus’ doomed flight, to the Apollo missions, to the Hubble Space Telescope. There is a need to explore that goes beyond the mere search for knowledge and answers. It is a calling so deep-seeded within our very DNA. To be human is to yearn for the undiscovered country; to see that which no one else has seen; to be where no one else has been. We live in the finite so we look to the stars for a glimpse at the limitless.

It is that desire which called us all to the Icarus Project. Here we continue his dream of reaching for the stars and flying far beyond the limits of the ordinary. We wish a chance to touch infinity and become a part of something greater than ourselves.

Today, those wishes finally become a reality. This marks the next stage of a fifteen year project that represents countless lifetimes of hard work, dedication, and a dream for humanity. Today, the Icarus II will fly.

Our mandate is simply: to explore. Like Magellan’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe; like Shackleton’s Antarctic adventures; like Armstrong and Kennedy’s steps on humanity’s pathway to the stars. We have touched our moon and the Red Planet, but there is a universe full of planets that we have not yet laid our hands upon. The Icarus II seeks to change that.

First, the Icarus II will complete a grand tour of the solar system. A seven year mission that is only possible because of a once-in-a-generation alignment of the planets. Six self-sustainable pods–able to make their own respective journeys back to Earth–are attached to the Icarus. At each planet, a pod will be launched with two astronauts and they will make first journeys of their own: to the terrestrial fireballs of Mercury and Venus, to the ice satellites of Jupiter, to Saturn’s moon-planet Titan, and, finally, to the gas giants of Uranus and Neptune. We do not know what will be learned from exploring these heavenly bodies, but we do know that it is a task that we have been called to.

And while the pods make their headlong way home to Earth, the Icarus II and its twelve remaining astroanuts will point themselves towards the Alpha Centauri system and become the first human beings to leave behind the light of our Sun.

From there, the Icarus II will truly begin to explore the uncharted. It will go where no probe has explored and it will see that which has not yet been seen by the human eye. The purpose is to discover. To that effect, there is no return date scheduled for the Icarus II. No point in space where the journey is to stop. The astronauts will chart their own path through the stars and become caretakers of their own destiny. We consider this to be the only true way to explore the stars.

There are those who accuse us of being romantic dreamers; of being escapists, so fed up with the troubles of home, that we seek to leave behind a planet when it needs most to be united. And, perhaps, rightly so, with the Earth in such dire straights. From the economic wasteland of the Americas to the Sino land wars to the forgotten spans of Africa, humanity is rushing madly towards self-extinction and the Icarus Project burns supplies that could be better spent on solving such conflicts.

But what we do is not for personal benefit. We act in the name of all humanity. Now, more than ever, it is necessary to dream. Humanity must believe that there is a future worth going to. It is not enough to survive; we must also flourish. So the Icarus II takes to the stars to reignite the fire in our hearts. We desperately use resources because we are racing against the clock. We want to give the world a reason to live, not just a reason to survive; a reason to drive our souls.

So today, with the the flight of the Icarus II, we dream and we hope that all of humanity will join us in discovering the beauty and wonder of the unknown. There will be no secrets; what we see, all will see. What we discover, all will discover. This is a journey for all of humankind and our entire civilization will be made the better for it.