36 PHI KAPPA PHI FORUM
In 1969, children
of my generation
handful of men
fly toward the
what they would
find on the cold,
cratered surface of
a world not our own.
The possibilities seemed endless —
not only for lunar exploration, but the
wider odyssey into the rest of space.
We dreamed of colonies on the moon
and, perhaps not much later, on Mars,
too. Back then, not yet a first-grader,
I thought it fine to picture myself
as a college student living on some
shimmering interstellar outpost.
But settling the galactic frontier
proved more elusive than we had
thought. We grew bored with the
moon and stopped sending people
to visit. Blueprints for that great
Martian metropolis apparently still
rest on someone’s drawing board.
Now in middle age, I remain, it seems
permanently, on my native planet.
It’s here that I sometimes think about
perhaps the greatest dividend of those
early NASA years, when we pierced the
big, blue lid of the sky and peered into
the cosmos. What we discovered, much
to our surprise, is that the scene was
just as magical in the rearview mirror.
DANNY HEITMAN (Southeastern Louisiana University), a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana,
frequently writes about literature and culture for national publications.
What we discovered, much to our surprise, is that the
scene was just as magical in the rearview mirror.
OUR LIVING SPHERE
Space travel allowed us to photograph Earth — the whole thing, a cosmic selfie.
Holding our home planet at arm’s length, like Hamlet regarding a skull, has enriched
our sense of where we live and who we are.
From space, Earth resembles a big, bright ball, a child’s first and essential toy. Our
terrestrial home, it seems, is an homage to play, in all its forms, from baseball to
poetry, from jacks to jazz, philosophy, debate, a writer crafting a sentence, a gymnast
dancing on a beam. We are creatures of imagination and daring, alive on a sphere
that calls us to create, to tinker, to laugh.
Seen another way, Earth is an eye, a cerulean organ of vision that bravely looks
outward at the infinite black reaches, its curiosity unblinking and eternal. Our planet
is a banner of our hunger to know. We are a learning tribe, though we seldom seem
to learn as quickly or as deeply as we should.
Perhaps the best description of Earth lies within the pages of “The Lives of the
Cell,” by the remarkable medical essayist Lewis Thomas:
Viewed from the distance of the moon, the astonishing thing about the Earth, catching
the breath, is that it is alive. The photographs show the dry, pounded surface of the moon
in the foreground, dead as an old bone. Aloft, floating free beneath the moist, gleaming
membrane of bright blue sky, is the rising Earth, the only exuberant thing in this part of
the cosmos ... If you had been looking for a very long, geologic time, you could have seen
the continents themselves in motion, drifting apart on their crustal plates, held afloat
by the fire beneath. It has the organized, self-contained look of a live creature, full of
information, marvelously skilled in handling the sun.
What Thomas describes, in short, is a miracle. If I am destined to stay on Earth, I
tell myself, then this is not such a bad place to be.