On Friday night, I walked the dog just after six and watched the international space station travel overhead from northwest to southeast, a bright light, looking like a star, moving across the sky. For many born in the last couple of decades, that is common viewing, if they are even paying attention. But for me, and many of my long-time friends, it’s a reminder of the wonders of our time.
I’ve been around long enough to remember President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech about the United States’ need to put a man on the moon. We had already put 40 satellites into orbit and sent an unmanned rocket to Saturn to gather information.
Those early efforts led to a number of science fiction television shows and movies: Star Trek, Star Wars. Star Trek offered us, over many years and incarnations, a window into intolerance, offense and acceptance toward those who are different from us.
A lot of science fiction has shown us how alike we might be from those different from us: The Last Starfighter, a movie in which a young man who is very talented on a video game is recruited as the Last Starfighter, transported to another galaxy and is partnered with an English-speaking life-size lizard, who has a wife and photos of his hundreds of children, to save the galaxy. They have the same goal.
The idea that there might be other, intelligent worlds in this universe and beyond is the stuff daydreams are made of. Maybe there is a world where there is no conflict because the violent war gene has not developed in their brains. What if the cure for all cancers lay in the soil on Mars or Saturn? The possibilities are endless.
In all the days since JFK announced we needed to send a man to the moon, we have done so. And dozens of shuttle crews have skyrocketed into orbit, some not so successfully, but the challenge to explore beyond our atmosphere remains strong in us all, I believe.
I was fortunate, two years ago, to see, up close, a launch of the shuttle Atlantis. My cousin, Buddy Levitt, was working at the Kennedy Space Center and got me and my friends, Colin and Marg Stutesman, into a private viewing area. Watching the launch, pictured above, will remain one of the highlights of my life.
Seeing a shuttle launch, watching the international space station track across my night sky, feeling the awe of watching the Leonid meteor shower last month: It’s our sky at its finest, and our daydreams at their best.