View From The Middle
What's Next On
The NASA's Space Agenda? How About Time?
By Charles Rogers
Eight days ago - at precisely 1:01 p.m., the space shuttle Discovery touched the ground and ended its fifteen-day mission to the international space station floating about 300 miles above planet Earth. There will be another space shuttle going up there in a little more than two weeks.
Going up there; did you ever think life would get this far? Did you realize when you were seven, ten, maybe 14 years old - or more - that you would be throwing around words like "going up there" and referring to a space station with such alacrity and familiarity that just about everyone accepted it as commonplace? When I was growing up, these terms were referred to in comic books or science fiction movies. I can't even remember the superhero's name, but I can remember he (or she) would climb into some space vehicle and head for the stars as the music crescendoed and the screen faded to black; or the torn edge of the comic book would show a star-blast (POW!).
Now - only eight days ago, we're talking about the first female astronaut commanders of space vehicles shaking hands with each other as they linked hundreds of miles "up there."
And it hasn't really taken us long, when you think of it.
Many, of course, don't remember the first Mercury astronauts, or the Pioneer, non-manned journeys into space. They followed the Russian Sputnik, the first man-, uh, human -made object to be sent into orbit around our planet, beginning the space race to the moon.
It didn't take long for President John F. Kennedy to say the challenging words, setting America on a journey to the moon. The Apollo missions would surpass those discoveries of the great explorers of human history and take us beyond yet another so-called barrier; beyond the reaches of the Earth.
And on July 20, 1969 Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped on the dusty surface of that now-tangible symbol of mystery and romance, we were all there to watch it on our little TV sets in awe. This couldn't be happening. This is beyond the dream of wise men and seers throughout history. How many times had we looked up there and wondered just what it is like - and how our planet would look from that view. Now we know. History books and maps and calendars and huge murals depict that glorious view from every point, ad infinitum.
Now, with the space shuttle and the additions being put on the space station, we're setting our sights for deeper penetration into the mysterious reaches of interstellar space. In the latest mission, four astronauts took a walk outside the craft and attached another room to it (that sounds a little bit simplified, but that's what they did!). It will give more room for new technological features that will allow us earthlings to, in the not too distant future, go to Mars.
Yes, Mars. And, my God, what's after that? We have spaceships going every which way now...to Venus and what used to be Pluto and Jupiter and all those places songwriters write about - and beyond. You know we'll eventually be going "out there." No, not by any means does space have a final frontier. It just goes on and on and on, refurbishing and expanding the physical - and emotional and, perhaps, spiritual - reaches of the mind of man.
What's next? Well, for starters, how about the adventure we've already begun beyond our solar system - out into the gaseous aura surrounding and, in fact, just becoming, new planets? According to sources at NASA, the Voyager missions have already embarked on their journeys and have become the most distant human object "out there."
And after Space? Astrophysicists have already begun to undertake experiments into Time. Yes, Time. Supposedly the most intangible tangible, or visa versa. Will that be the final frontier? Will we - the human race - be able to do it?
Eight days ago we took another leap; and we'll take yet another in a few weeks; and again and again. It's our nature to discover, and here we are, bearing witness to it.
I'm like a child steeped in the wonder of it all; and I'm still amazed.