Nearly fifty years ago a dashing Russian man by the name of Yuri Gagarin was the first Earthling to visit the black expanse of infinitely full, endlessly empty space. Not to be outdone, the United States sent Alan Shepard up less than a month later. Since then, some 500 people have left the planet Earth in a spaceship. It would take China 42 years to become the third nation to send a ship into the black void, though citizens of around 35 nations have had the pleasure of accompanying those three nations on their voyages.
Now fast forward to the future. Over the next 16 years, India, the European Space Agency, Iran and Japan intend to send up their own vessels, as well as tentatively planned but as of yet unscheduled programs by North Korea, Turkey, Malaysia and Romania. The last one particularly intrigues me, as I have always thought of Romania as being one of those few remaining Eastern European countries that still lives in the days of Dracula, of Vlad the Impaler, where dirt roads leading up treacherous mountain passes to cliffside castles still exist.
Keep in mind that in the past, Japan, Iraq and the European Space Agency have all abandoned plans to send manned shuttles into space, and as one might imagine, the organization, funding and even the very prospect of the mission is daunting. We have trouble enough packing up the minivan to take the kids to visit Grandma in New Hampshire, let alone making it out of our own atmosphere. Even still, as our robots explore Mars and we contemplate sending humans there, as satellites continue to clutter in orbit, and we have a full time outpost where astronauts are living and working right now, the possibilities of tomorrow are exciting, and certainly frightening.
I can’t help but think about Columbus setting foot on New World soil. The centuries it took to get from then to now, the advancements, the genocide, slavery, destruction of Earth that ensued. The glorious advances and enlightenment that followed, as well. There is such an overflowing mug of human potential, used or abused, and to be alive in 3000 looking back over our current new century would be an exciting prospect.
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