Reclaim The Dream

by Alma A. Hromic

December 16, 2002


December 13, 2002. The thirtieth anniversary of the last time the human race stood on the Moon.

When we first landed on the Moon, back in 1969, I was woefully too young to know it. I've always loved starlight, so perhaps it is not too outlandish to suppose that even back then I must have found a certain quiet happiness in raising my eyes to the night sky -- but at that time it could not have been much more to me than something beautiful and far away.

I caught the excitement years later, when I first started thinking about the stars as what they actually were -- other suns, surrounded by (possibly) other worlds. Once, on a trip through the vastness of the semi-desert area of the Karoo in South Africa, I was both humbled and exhilarated by the depth of the night sky - unadulterated by city lights and garish neon, the ribbon of the Milky Way was almost palpable across the heavens, and the stars looked close enough to touch and burn with a cold fire. I learned to dream by looking at the world through starlight. I learned to love my world by unconsciously reaching out to the other worlds that must be out there. The most contemporary space probes reveal water on Mars and actual water oceans under thick ice on Europa, and the awe and excitement I felt as a youngster quicken again as I follow newspaper accounts of the discoveries...

But there are so few newspaper accounts of the discoveries.

People who were my age in July 1969 probably know precisely where they were when that first human step was taken on the Moon. I had no Moon landing to feed my hunger for the stars, but I remember going down to the TV room in my student residence hall at University a good hour or so before the first landing of the space shuttle "Columbia" was to be telecast live. I had a front row seat as the shuttle touched down in the Mojave Desert, and I burst into tears as the announcer said, his own voice oddly shaky, "Welcome home, Columbia." Home. She had been out there, played amongst the stars, and she had come home to tell us the story. It was a moment of pride and awe; it almost, almost, made up for missing the Moon landing. It was a partial fulfillment of a promise that had lingered ever since that other spacecraft first touched down upon the surface of another world. But even that has faded in the past few years.

What happened to the dream? The most callous explanation could simply be that the Space Race was no more than that -- a race -- and that anything beyond who "won" was largely irrelevant. In those terms, it was the Russians who won the early medals -- the first dog in space, the first man in space, the first woman in space, the first space walk, the first space station, even. The United States scrambled its jets and stole the Moon landing...and then spun its wheels for years. The Europeans made a few motions towards space, and then seemed to lose interest. Those of us who yearned for the stars had to be content with the photographs taken by space probes hurtling past distant planets on their way out of our solar system and our existence. While it is tempting and indeed inevitable to speculate about their fate once they left our own "back yard," so to speak, I for one can't help remembering that once we had a real live human being out there... and that real live human beings have never managed to go back beyond a standard Earth orbit, after the last Apollo flight.

I watched, from a distance, a shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral -- a Russian-American mission whose purpose was to pursue the goal of the oft-discussed, and oftener-downgraded and pared down, international space station project. The initial drawings, which looked rather more like Deep Space Nine of Star Trek fame, had metamorphosed into a somewhat more practical set of blueprints, and even those were always too expensive to actually implement. It has been old news for so long -- this "too expensive to deal with" refrain -- that the somewhat historic launch of a mission dedicated to this particular goal was just another ho-hum event. It was watched by three people from a Florida bridge which offered a prime view of the proceedings.

Where are our children? Where will they say they were twenty, thirty, forty years from now when some sort of a station is hashed out and becomes a reality? Will they even remember that it was in their lifetime that the ancient dream took flight? It is in the hands of these youngsters that the future lies, and it is a little frightening that many of them believe more in Nintendo games and Hollywood movies than in the real life challenges, which can sometimes seem a little too hard without the glib special effects and the quick solutions they provide. It was the early space research that gave us much of what we consider to be life's necessities today. Computers we play games on in an idle moment, tiny palm-sized machines on which we tap out a reminder to buy groceries and pick up kids from school, the instant communication web of email and the Internet, all were dreams and science fiction not too long ago. The average laptop today has the power to run several overlapping sixties-vintage Apollo missions to the Moon, and somehow this staggering fact has quite failed to fire our imagination. How easy it is to take life for granted sometimes.

Perhaps it is just the way that modern urban children have had the night sky stolen from them by the glare of the city lights; out of sight and out of mind, the stars wait patiently for the eyes of those children to be raised to them once again. It is probably not yet too late to raise the Lazarus of the "space race" if we remember one very simple thing -- it is not the race that matters. It is supremely irrelevant who gets there "first" -- there will be no medals handed out on a podium like at some cosmic Olympic Games. For once, it is the destination that is important, not the road taken to get there or the kind of vehicle in which it is negotiated. The dream belongs to all of us. And it is still not too late to reach out and reclaim the wonder of it for the generation which will have to lead the way.

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Alma Hromic, the author with R. A. Deckert of Letters from the Fire, was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. Trained as a microbiologist, she spent some years running a scientific journal, and later worked as an editor for an international educational publisher. Her own publishing record includes her autobiography, Houses in Africa, The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories, a bestselling book of three fables published by Longman UK in 1995, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and non-fiction. Her last novel, the first volume of a fantasy series, Changer of Days: The Oracle, was published in September 2001 by Harper Collins. Hromic is an essential member of Swans. She maintains her own Web site (with Deck Deckert) where she provides information about her work and the professional services she offers: ButterknifeBooks.com

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Alma Hromic on Swans

Essays published in 2002 | 2001

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Published December 16, 2002
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