Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back to the Future: Moon Shots and the Imagination

How did you celebrate the 40th anniversary of men stepping on the moon for the first time?

I showed the New York Times from that day and described how special it was to my eight and 12-year-old daughters, the fact that a fellow Eagle Scout made that first step, the fact that the lunar module was called the Eagle. So many facts obscured by time, it seems like another lifetime.

We celebrated by watching the great Bob Zemeckis film "Contact." It still brings tears to my eyes, this totally human exploration of the imagination. How alone we are in the universe, yet we have each other, endlessly chasing down the question of faith and the promise of science. I love the scene where Jodie Foster is being questioned by a Congressional committee after she hurtles through time and space and there's no record of her voyage. No one, save for Matthew McConnaghy, believes her in official Washington. And he's the man of faith.

There was no moral to this story. Only that we can't stop dreaming and doing and cherishing our humanity. The beings who contacted Jodie Foster first sent an image of Hitler to make their first contact. Perhaps that was a reminder that with the hope comes horror as well. Our souls are so bifurcated by darkness and light.

Where have we come since we set foot on the moon and left our footprints and space junk for eternity?

The man who promised he would get us there was shot and killed, as was his brother. The man who said he had a dream was also murdered, followed by riots in every major city. We stopped a war and were attacked and are still fighting a war against largely unseen enemies.

We have phones that can tell us where we are, shoot pictures and entertain us. We have more computers in our homes than appliances. We have treatments for impotence, sagging skin, aging and joints that wear out.

We haven't cured cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's or diabetes yet, but know something of the blueprint of our biological roadmap.

We are still neglectful over the thousands of young people killed in cities or who end up in prison, which is the repository of more souls than any other civilized country.

Our banking system nearly blew up thanks to greed and it seems like we're rewarding the bankers still.

We elected an intelligent, articulate man president to fix the mess whose father was African and whose mother was from Kansas.

More than 70 million are uninsured or underinsured and could lose everything over medical bills.

We keep building bombs, pumping oil from the ground and poison into our air and water.

So maybe we shouldn't be trying to go back to the moon. Perhaps we should be building space pods for refugees randomly selected to perpetuate the species at some dire point in the future.

The only conviction I have is that we shouldn't stop dreaming and believing that we can change things. The cosmos is with us on this.

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