Potent Quotables - The Importance of Space Travel

Lucius Wisniewski

"Potent Quotables" is an idea I had in the shower.

Tom Wolfe wrote "The Right Stuff," which means Tom Wolfe is a better writer than you (and me, and most people ever). Wolfe is best known for his dazzling forays into the drama of the human experience, and none is finer than his breathtaking story about many of the original NASA pilots and the 'contained insanity' of the folks who chose that dangerous line of work. Years after "The Right Stuff," when Wolfe wrote about the dwindling size of NASA's budget (see below), he didn't write about politics, he wrote about people. Wolfe called to mind one of NASA's greatest rocket scientists, Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocketeer-turned-American-visionary. von Braun was responsible for the Saturn V rocket, which put astronauts on the moon 40 years ago, and instead of banging his head against a political wall, arguing about bullet points and taxation and all sorts of other circlejerkery, Wolfe brilliantly wove a story, told secondhand and paraphrased, into a political, "science-fictional" stab. Not only is it well written and well told, it's effective, and it's a reminder of the importance of continued space exploration and the need for global dedication to science. Even with limited resources, NASA is doing altering, ground-breaking work, just check out the latest Curiosity news or APOD, but more funding can only help build toward an indefinite future for our species.

"NASA’s annual budget sank like a stone from $5 billion in the mid-1960s to $3 billion in the mid-1970s. It was at this point that NASA’s lack of a philosopher corps became a real problem. The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher, Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program was really all about. 
It’s been a long time, but I remember him saying something like this: Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of." -Tom Wolfe, on Wernher von Braun

In the meantime, science fiction can take us there.