I got caught up in the 1998 mini-series "From the Earth to the Moon" (originally on HBO) being shown on the Science channel. I was caught up in it because of the rather amazing cast. I mean, future failed Senatorial candidate Al Franken has a role as a CONSERVATIVE science advisor. Both Adam Baldwin and Gary Cole got to go to space in this series. Of course, Baldwin was playing a respectable Astronaut Fred Haise, a far cry from his now-better-known portrayal of the lovable (in his own way) mercenary Jayne in "Firefly." And Cole got to be a lot of other things after playing Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, not the least of which was Capt. Gideon in "Babyon 5: Crusade." And then, of course, he was the Vice President of the U.S. where he was a relatively good guy and still the worst member of a wholly fantastical administration... And that's just three of the cast members that made me grin, nod, raise my eyebrows (Cary Elwes as an American astronaut? Jimmy frikkin' Buffet as an unnamed journalist? And the list goes on and on...)
When I was a small child ... very small ... I took my first ride on an airplane. It's been years (more than 20, actually) since I flew on an airplane with propellers and these days I'm unnerved by just the sight of them. But back then it was high tech and I was fascinated. But what fascinated me even more was that as I flew from Boston to Cleveland, high above me, Alan Shepard was flying off into the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere, creating the U.S.'s entry into the newly begun space race.
But the thing that really gets to me is this. We didn't go to the moon or do any of the other space related things we did because we wanted to learn, to advance our knowledge or technology, to look for fellow beings out in space, for any of those idealistic reasons. We did it because it looked good. We did it because it would help the administration get re-elected. We did it for publicity, for politics, for votes.
Maybe I'm too cynical. And it's true that throughout the late sixties and early seventies, I was more concerned with ending an unjust war than finding out if there was anything to be learned out in space. So I was perhaps as guilty as the administration of seeing the space program as something other than what it should have been. (I saw it as a deliberate distraction. Sound familiar to anyone?) But it seems to me that going to space just for the spin we can put on it is just a waste of time, money, and -- dare I say it? -- political capital.
All this aside, I still remember waking up early, early in the morning to see the shuttle Columbia land for the first time, and feeling -- not hearing or imagining but feelng -- the lines from "Roll on Columbia" in my heart:
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn,
So roll on, Columbia, roll on.
I'm starting to babble. Popcorn is the only good cure.