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You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?

Sorry, I refuse to go. You may have to court-martial or prosecute me, but I won’t go. I simply wouldn’t go on a mission that would take me away forever. I’ll wait for heaven, thank you.

Obviously, I’d miss my family: 4 children, 10 (nearly 11) grandchildren, my friends, the activities I enjoy, the comfort of our home and the beauty of our yard. Yes, of course I would miss my husband, too, and extended family, particularly my sister.

It’s been hard enough to get used to life on earth, to get some appreciation (if not knowledge) of the way things work (science and math) and how people react to life’s experiences (literature and arts). I have no desire to start over on a new planet, and relearn everything I take for granted.

I greatly admire people who have the guts and passion to be adventurers, pioneers, first in their accomplishments. I remember when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon: I, like a lot of other people the world over, wondered what would happen when they stepped out of their lunar landing module. Would there be monsters, would the ground hold them up or would they disappear from sight, would they bring back some alien bacteria or disease? When the time came for their module to return to the spacecraft, would they be able to lift off? I’m sure some of their confidence was based on a knowledge much more extensive than mine (or most people’s), but it still took bravery. I am in awe of and grateful for all of those who have that fearless, curious quality to forge ahead into the unknown.

The only aspect of space travel that intrigues me is the spiritual experience that many astronauts have experienced. Only those who have gone into space — a handful of human beings — can share that experience and relate to other another, no matter what their national origin or religion.

As Astronaut James Irwin put it: “As we got farther and farther away, it (the earth) diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.” That would be wondrous to experience to have.

I can understand Gene Cernan’s observation: “I felt that the world was just too beautiful to have happened by accident. There has to be something bigger than you and bigger than me…” Many of the astronauts I read about agreed that
it brought them into a close encounter with their own smallness, the Earth’s beauty, and the vastness of the cosmos.

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John Glenn believes that there is perhaps nothing more human than the curiosity that compels exploration. But paired with that curiosity is a search for meaning — “…we don’t want to know just what is out there, we want to turn it into something with a story, something with sense. We turn to the gods for that meaning, and we turn to them for our safety as we go.”

Another astronaut, Alan Bean, the Apollo 12 moon-walker later became a full-time painter. He felt the moon missions gave the astronauts the courage to live their lives the way they’d always wanted to live them. “I remember thinking in lunar orbit, that if I got back from this, I was going to live my life differently, in that I was going to try to live it … like I want to live it,” “It doesn’t change you, it reveals who you are,” he said. I find that I often feel like I’m waiting for something to change me — but I don’t know what that would be. In truth, I’ve learned that change has to come from within and usually requires some work, not just a desire to experience it.

To me the experiences of those who have gone into outer space would be the only reason for making such a trip. Nevertheless, I think I’ll be content to read about it and try to appreciate what they’ve learned and recounted.

 

 

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