A few hundred thousand years ago, human beings began to develop spoken language. Although the first words spoken are lost to (pre)history, they were undoubtedly related to food and the struggle to survive. As night fell over that first day of human speech, however, Homo sapiens all over the planet peered into the sky and uttered one of man’s deepest obsessions:
Just as mankind was becoming self-aware, he was also becoming aware of the wonders of the unknown. Just beginning to grasp the concept of what is here and what is there, early humans must have been filled with awe to discover a place that was so far from here that it was beyond there. Driven perhaps by evolutionary tendencies, mankind began to collectively scheme about that space that defied their exploration.
Most of the world’s prehistoric sites are devoted to a study of the sky. Acting variously as solar or lunar calendars, these structures reflect one of the few unifying characteristics of human beings all over the world: the desire to understand space.
For hundreds of thousands of years, structures eerily similar to the one above were constructed by cultures all over the world.
As time moved on — something we noted because of our study of the stars — human beings began to explore our planet. We traveled to every continent, conquered, retreated, and reconquered every land, and navigated every sea. All of these things we accomplished so easily and so quickly. Man, the great explorer, had seen every bit of Earth.
Except the outside.
Fifty years ago today, John Glenn became the first human being to ever see the whole planet from space. In a crazy moment of fierce competitive exploration, humanity had literally propelled a man into orbit around his planet of origin. Glenn returned to Earth safely three rotations later, and effectively became an instant celebrity. A hero.
Although Glenn had transformed the future of exploration forever (think about how the space race would have turned out if he had died from unknown space pathogens — a real fear at the time) and scratched the itch of man’s exploring spirit, his example only helped fuel man’s obsession with space. Although it took some 100,000 years of human history to send a man around the world in a rocket, it only took eight years to land a man on the moon after John Glenn’s spin around the globe.
Just as Glenn’s trip 50 years ago was a confidence booster for the American space program and the international community, the spirit of exploration for the betterment of our species must continue to serve as an inspiration. We can’t, as human beings, allow a 100,000 year obsession turn into a historical artifact. Sure, Newt Gingrich’s lunar colony plan is crazy, but one of humanity’s greatest accomplishment should never be abandoned. To quote an article I wrote last May (available here – http://www.meanwhileinwv.com/2011/05/former_frontier/),
… space exploration is something we need. The course of man’s history has been to continually grow and change; we can’t afford to let that stop now.