Exploration of space is our destiny

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

I think I know what it&8217;s like to be that Mars rover from a few years ago that lost contact with NASA after its long journey to the Red Planet.

A recent return trip from Alabama somehow turned into a two-day adventure when everything that could go wrong did.

The plane I was supposed to be on? Grounded for mechanical difficulties.

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The car I then tried to get home in? Flat tire. It was the last thing I needed on a cold, dark, rainy stretch of Interstate 20. (If you want to test your compatibility with someone, try changing a tire in the freezing rain. If you get the spare on the car and neither of you winds up beside the road hitching a ride, you&8217;ll probably be OK.)

Even the Wal-Mart my traveling companion and I reached just before it closed didn&8217;t have the size tire we needed.

So I was pleased to find that a hotel room in Brandon offered a channel of nothing but NASA.

NASA press conferences, NASA documentaries and video of NASA control room geeks bursting into exuberant applause when the new Spirit rover reached Mars &8212; all on a continuous loop with little to no narration, just a little NASA logo in the corner of the screen to clue you in.

Since I had nothing else to do &8212; as Murphy&8217;s law also had rendered my laptop computer inoperable &8212; I watched the NASA channel for a while.

Silent video of that wide expanse of rocky red terrain was exciting, full of promise. I began to imagine what could have been up there &8212; and what could be there in the future.

So I was pleased to hear President Bush is committed to continuing NASA&8217;s exploration projects, not only returning astronauts to the moon but also sending man to Mars.

Already people have begun to politicize the idea, with Democratic candidates complaining the president should worry about issues here on earth.

I realize domestic problems &8212; and certainly international conflicts &8212; should take precedence.

But we must make a place for our dreams. Forty-three years ago President Kennedy declared we would put man on the moon, and while that issue was certainly politicized, we made it happen.

Exploration of space is as much the destiny of humankind as the exploration of our own planet.

And while it is exciting to see what the Mars rover sees, imagine seeing it for ourselves.

As Steven Squyres of Cornell University, chief scientist for the Mars project said of Bush&8217;s plans: &8220;There&8217;s no greater fan of robotic exploration than me. But the best exploration, the most complete exploration, the most comprehensive exploration is going to be done by humans.&8221;

We will suffer setbacks on our journey. Just a year ago NASA endured a great loss, the second loss of a space shuttle crew in two decades of such flight.

But we also will be able to celebrate the victories, the successful landings as we inch closer to our dreams.

Because sooner or later, we all find our way home &8212; but we&8217;re better for the difficult journey.

Kerry Whipple

is editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3541 or by e-mail at kerry.whipple@ natchezdemocrat.com.