As a child, few things excited me as much as outer space. I loved fantasizing the about distant stars and planets and aliens and asteroids. Will we be living on the moon someday? Will I walk on the surface of a distant planet?
I didn’t know anything at all about space travel – but then, no one else did either, not really. It was a new frontier beckoning to restless humans, who have, since prehistory, looked up at the stars and the planets and wondered. When Alan Shepard took his sub-orbital ride, I was seven years old. I vaguely remember watching coverage of his trip and being amazed. A year later, John Glenn orbited the earth three times. I was hooked. I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to fly into outer space.
Glenn’s trip in his tiny Mercury space capsule, the Friendship 7, made a significant impression on me and so many other baby boomers. It also made an impression on our parents’ generation who, after all, were the ones who dreamt up this wild notion of manned space flight. Not coincidentally, The Jetsons appeared on tv the same year Glenn was launched away in space. Is this what it will be like?, I wondered. Will all of us live this utopian lifestyle? Will we all have an AI robot like Rosie?
My parents realized my interest in space was deep. They bought me what may have been my first nonfiction: a little paperback, called Stars, by Herbert Zim, from a collection of science guides for kids, called Simon & Schuster’s Golden Nature Guides. I loved this book. I mean, I really loved this book. I must’ve looked it over a million times, and every time it was with reverence and glee.
Stars was more than a good reference book for a curious child. It was a ticket that took me right off of this planet. I could imagine numerous space voyages. And in every imagining, I was on my own: isolated, quiet, streaking toward our nearest star (outside the Sun, of course), Alpha Centauri. I gazed at the illustrations often, which helped further the fantasy.
My theory is that I needed to escape the semi-toxic world in which I lived; imagining an interstellar voyage was a great move. This may be why fantasy books for kids, like Harry Potter, for instance, are so compelling. It’s all about living in an alternate Universe, far from parents and school and the nonsense of labile peer groups and mean girls and bully boys. I don’t have the same need to escape that I had as a child.
My life is so much more joyful, filled with a much greater sense of blessing over curse. I also know enough about space travel to know that I ain’t a candidate, because of my age, and because a ticket to space is just a bit outside my tax bracket (Elon Musk says that a one-way ticket to Mars is $10 billion; it only costs $250,000 to fly to where outer space officially begins…).
However, I still look up at the nighttime sky with awe and amazement. And I still gaze upward with a new appreciation for what thinking about the stars gave me: a way out, an alternative to a harsh, capricious world. The ability to dream, to fantasize, leads us to believe in hope. This is the only world I will ever walk upon. Which is really ok with me. I will keep dreaming of other worlds. But I will take the fantasies of a better world out there somewhere and bring them earthward.
I will be praying for, and working in this world. This is where hope is needed, now more than ever. But keep looking up.