Cosmonut

enterprise
“Goddammit, Jim! If it wasn’t for your ego we could have done a lap of Jupiter and gone home!”

Dear Mr Jenkins,

I read your Guardian article with interest and wish to point out a couple of things you appear to have overlooked.

While our home has been a stable place to live for long enough for a bunch of apes who could out-smart a hungry lion to hone their survival strategy to the point where they can fire one of their number into an orbiting house and bring him back alive we live in a pretty volatile place.

We share a solar system with, for example, floating rocks the size of Texas, any one of which could decide to pay us a brief and catastrophic visit.  The Moon, which our vanity drove us to visit in 1969, was quite probably formed when another mother-fucking planet careered into us, like a Boxing Day driver.

We share our planet with a bunch of microbes, one of which could decide to evolve into a new and untreatable fatal condition (and, really, we share their planet.  They were here first and outnumber us a trillion-to-one).  We’ve got a volcano 45 miles across a continental spit from some of our most fertile and important crop-lands, that we’re all super-fucking-chilled about.  Occasionally, for reasons we don’t fully understand, the bit of the planet that we live on plays host to an ice-sheet a kilometre thick.  Meanwhile we behave with all the responsibility of an arsonist at a Prodigy concert when it comes to burning every bastard thing that will burn, whilst laughing at the socks-and-sandals of those who suggest this isn’t a great idea.

We point our telescopes at our sister planet, Venus, and speculate that it may once have been as hospitable as Earth…but now has surface pressure that would crush you like a grape while it rained mother-fucking sulphuric acid onto you.

One of the hardest jobs of management is distinguishing what’s important from what’s urgent.  We have many urgent problems, but one of the important ones is recognising that, without doubt, we’re going to reach a point where we need to step off Earth.  Not for vanity, but for survival.

Unfortunately the overwhelming scientific consensus is now that the universe is ‘fucking massive’.  There’s a lot of nothing between us and anywhere that’s not us and, even though it’s nothing, it teems with inventive, unpleasant and surprising ways to turn a human into a sad little comet.  Because of this size we can’t conquer space in one leap; we have to take infuriatingly tiny steps, and one of those steps is to keep pushing, to keep space exploration in our hearts and on our front pages.

Every one of those baby-steps is expensive and almost pointless and unjustifiable in its own right, but when the day comes that we need to leave the cradle that has become poisonous to us we’ll remember the names of those who took them and those who championed them. Those who stood in the way while either be remembered only as obstacles or, if they triumph, as names on scraps of paper that flutter across the surface of the planet that we chose to turn into our mausoleum.

Yours, etc.

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