Sunday, June 3, 2012

Space Travel and the Techno-Fix

My whimsical piece about avoiding depression while living at the space station is up at the Boston Globe site.
I wrote it after reading the diary of Russian cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev, who spent 211 days in space. Two things struck me while reading the diary: there is incredible beauty on the Earth, which astronauts at the space station have a privileged and unique view of, and space travel itself is terribly depressing.

To see the former, you can check out this time-lapse video taken by space station astronauts of the Earth. The northern lights look spectacular.

It's a unique perspective to be able to admire Earth's beauty from space and worth a few minutes of our time. But I think we should remember that despite the successes of the space program -- however you want to measure them -- we're not leaving this planet anytime soon.

Denise Levertov comments on this on her poem, For Those Who Want Out:

"Those Who Want Out"

In their homes, much glass and steel. Their cars
are fast - walking's for children, except in rooms.
When they take longer trips, they think with contempt
of the jet's archaic slowness. Monastic
in dedication to work, they apply honed skills,
impatient of less than perfection. They sleep by day
when the bustle of lives might disturb their research,
and labor beneath flourescent light in controlled environments
fitting their needs, as the dialects
in which they converse, with each other or with
the machines (which are not called machines)
are controlled and fitting. The air they breathe
is conditioned. Coffee and coke keep them alert.
But no one can say they don't dream,
that they have no vision. Their vision
consumes them, they think all the time
of the city in space, they long for the permanent colony,
not just a lab up there, the whole works,
malls, racquet courts, hot tubs, state-of-the-art
ski machines, entertainment...Imagine it, they think,
way out there, outside of 'nature,' unhampered,
a place contrived by man, supreme
triumph of reason. They know it will happen.
They do not love the earth.

There's no silver bullet for our environmental problems. There's no techno-fix. Certainly, there's no escape -- if anything, things on a space colony will be worse than on our planet. Our task is to keep developing our sense of awe and wonder for what we have while we still have it.

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