October 5, 2006

The Final Frontier

I've always been a bit of a dreamer. When I was a kid, Jules Verne was one of my best friends - I must've read "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" about a dozen times each, followed closely by every Star Trek novel I could get my hands on. I found a trilogy by John Christopher called "When the Tripods Came" and read them cover to cover about ten times. When I was in sixth grade, I wrote to NASA hoping to start making connections for my inevitable trip on the space shuttle. I even got a response back, with a signed picture of the Atlantis shuttle crew and a bunch of NASA memorabilia. After years of staring at it, I finally pulled my mom's copy of "Contact" (Carl Sagan was a genius) off of the shelf and finished it in three days. I was sixteen. I think it's still in my book collection, waiting to be read again, and Jodie Foster's cinematic version of the book is in my DVD collection. I've read nearly every novel Michael Crichton ever wrote, but my favorites were Jurassic Park, Sphere, and Timeline. I even tried writing my own scifi series once, and gave up when my Grandmother discovered it and thought it was cute. I wasn't going for cute - the future was serious business. But I was ten, and I took stuff like that pretty personally.

My favorite movies are the Matrix trilogy, and I watch Stargate SG-1 on a regular basis. I am a dreamer of things that could be.

All of that, but I don't think I ever truly believed that I'd one day make it into space. Somewhere deep down I knew that it was all for the people who didn't get sick on roller coasters, the people who were in good shape, the people who could fly fighter planes at mach 3 and still smile and banter and joke when climbing out of the cockpit. I can't even read in a car, for fear of losing my lunch, and my lunch is very important to me.

But now it seems that my dreams have been rekindled. I made two discoveries as of late. First was Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist that managed to book a highly publicized flight aboard a Russian rocket to the International Space Station for a few days. Granted, it cost her $33 million USD to get there, but she did it, and from what
she says, it was incredible.

The second discovery was my discovery of
Virgin Galactic. It seems that the airplane company that specializes in cheaper fares (and ‘pleather’ seats, a mild step forward in comfort for airline travel) has begun a new branch to allow passengers to experience suborbital travel for a modest $200,000 USD. To put it in perspective, that means that space travel will cost less than 1% of what it cost Anousheh. Based out of New Mexico, Virgin Galactic is going to use a space plane launched from a mothership to reach orbit.

At this rate, (assuming Virgin manages to do what it says it will and continues to bring the ticket price down), space travel is going to start being a possibility for even those of us middle-class nerds that dreamt of floating in zero-G during those years when normal kids were playing soccer and goofing off with their friends.

It makes me start to wonder when we're going to meet aliens. Will that come before or after we invent a sentient AI? Will ftl drives (faster than light) be standard on any Mercedes in two hundred years? How about rejuvinative surgery? Wormholes? How likely are we to see fruit from all the things that science tells us are theoretically possible?

For the last few years, I've been disappointed by the lack of progress in these areas. It seems to me that exploration for exploration's sake was abandoned for things that would only turn a profit, as if unraveling the great mysteries that God built into the universe was no longer as interesting as the latest celebrity scandal. I was wrong though - NASA was just waiting for the funding for their new fleet of spacecraft. The contract has already been given out, and the dates set: we're heading to the moon, and then Mars starting in 2010. The ISS is going to get bigger, even as the shuttle fleet is retired from service. We are pushing the boundaries once again, and I'm once again excited by the possibilities.

Personally, I want to step on the moon. Or mars. Either would be great.


cruz-control said...

Wow. That NASA video is amazing. I just thought how weird it is that I may actually live to see a person land on Mars. It's really cool, actually.

I've always been a fan of Star Trek, too. Though not many people know it... until now. But this seems quite sci-fi, you know. And what about life on other planets. I don't see how there isn't life outside the earth, but many people's worlds will be shaken, huh?

I've also always found string theory interesing, the dimensions and crossing between dimensions, etc. It's all just so facinating. It really makes me understand that I can't understand God or his creation.

Chris said...

Yeah, the little I know of string theory is pretty interesting. Sure makes a lot of progress with connecting events in the universe with one another; though it would seem that religion is farther ahead on this one (since many religions acknowledge that everything affects everything else already).

I was never a closet trekkie - I was always the one who had the little micro machine toys of starships and flew them around my room and house on new adventures. Never got much into star wars until the newer movies came out, though I had all three on VHS tape. I used to have arguments wtih my friend Jeff over which was better - he loved star wars, I loved star trek, and we'd go on for HOURS on the merits of the two, which starship could blow up the death star and so on.

I can't believe I just put that out there. Yikes.

cruz-control said...

closet trekkie? lol

yes, yes... though that's a kind of... uh... awkward phrasing...;)

Sarah said...

oh my goodness I would love to fly or walk on the moon or mars. Definitely need to bring a camera on that vacation.

wow... that would be so amazing if I could do that.