To Reach for the Stars

“White Castle” by Yuri Shwedoff. Caption at bottom was added by someone else.

​I pray this picture will not foreshadow the embers of space exploration and colonization, slowly fading until we lose interest and forget we once had the opportunity to walk on other worlds.
Once upon a time, we listened to the sky’s siren call, and answered it. As it was with the sirens of myth, so it is with the heavens. They are unforgiving, more so than anywhere on Earth.
But that very danger is part of what beckons us. It is improper to overtly romanticize exploration, but exploration does carry more than a touch of the romantic, an urgency and necessity we cannot quite put into words. Some deep and fundamental part of us knows it is worth the risk, when we look up and drink in the sight of countless stars.
To stand any decent chance of surviving such a journey, your body and mind and spirit must be of the highest durability. They have to be tempered by demanding tests and adverse circumstances, not to mention incredible persistence and strength of character. Many of us need an enemy, as well. Whether it’s a competing empire, or an authority figure who said you’d never amount to anything, or even our own selves, we often wait until a voice tells us “You’ll never do that,” before we say “Yes I will.”
A famous passage in the Bible says that the heavens declare God’s glory, night after night pouring forth speech and displaying knowledge. And what knowledge! What rewards we have gathered from taking risks and pushing ourselves.
May we reach while we still can.
[Previously posted on Facebook]

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Fiction Exercise: Music to My Sunburned Ears

I wrote this for a workshop exercise back in January, a bit of action-oriented sci-fi. Hope you enjoy.

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Carter settled in the corner of a ruined cafeteria, where some of the gunmetal gray ceiling still remained to give him shelter. Gunshots and plasma blasts whacked against his ears, the kind of music that would race his heart and sweep him up in the wash of adrenaline. A music that put him at the edge of death, and gave him a stronger sense of life than anything else could.

His dark green trench coat swept dirt and broken glass and flakes of dried blood over the floor, his fingers plucking shots from the bandolier and poking them into the chamber of his Frenesat rifle. Creaks resounded through the wrecked ship underneath him, as if the massive craft were trying to revive itself and leave the battlefield. Fighters shot by like piloted missiles, chasing each other through air that stung with smoke.

“Base, base, come in,” Carter said through his headset, which crackled with static. “Carter reporting, come in.” For an eternity, he only heard the static, behind cover, with only the hours-old bodies of the crew to keep him company. Any minute now an incandescent green streak of wayward plasma could evaporate the bulkhead and end his life before he felt the burn.

“Base-” he shouted.

“Base here, Carter.” One of the lower captains barked into his ear. “Go ahead. You have a sit rep, Corporal?”

“Same as everywhere I’ve been today, sir. SOL. Bad luck’s following me like a lost puppy. I’m on the upper mess hall for the Lightning Revenant. Something tore an awful big hole in its back, after it dropped out of orbit. Could there be any survivors here?” He gave a glance to one of the bodies, a young woman in a green jumpsuit, with very little blood around her. He could have sworn she moved. The ship shook from a missile strike, is all, he told himself.

“We got no report of survivors leaving the Revenant,” said the captain through a momentary flurry of static. “If you got no other orders, you can work your way down through the decks. That spacecraft’s the best shelter out there, in any case.”

Carter stood up, cocking the silver rifle and letting it rest in his grip like a lover’s palm. “Agreed. I’ll continue inside. Carter out.”

Just as his first sprinted step took him out from the scrap of ceiling and bathed him in a bright blue sun, the girl in the emerald jumpsuit moaned. He wheeled around to find her pushing up from the field of corpses on one arm. The other one was broken, awkwardly contorted in its sleeve, and her hands were leathery red from sunburn. She must have lain there the whole time since the Revenant’s crash.

“Help me,” she mouthed, her bloodshot eyes finding Carter’s. “Help me. Please.”

Carter dashed to her and gingerly slung her good arm over his shoulder. A stab of resentment couldn’t be entirely ignored. The battle was no longer his idea of fun, a game, a jungle gym with shrapnel. Now he had to save someone’s life other than his own.

NASA in Decline

After the firestorm of creativity, innovation, and boundless optimism that was the Space Age, we have fallen far indeed. If we had taken the suggestions of people like Robert Zubrin and Bill Nye a mere ten or twelve years ago, we could have astronauts treading the surface of Mars right now, expanding our presence in the Solar System while pushing the limits of our technological prowess, and all the while feeding the basic human need for exploration.

Instead we have been puttering around low Earth orbit for a few decades, overlaid with the cacophony of talk about going to Mars without actually committing to it. And here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson, everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, telling it like it is:

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Interview

We have to remind ourselves that exploring other planets is the next logical step of feeding mankind’s collective need to go, to find, to learn. And if our government doesn’t remember NASA’s role and presence in space exploration, and forgets that America has the most experience and expertise, then stepping on another world is going to be so much more difficult than it needs to be.

If you lose the drive to explore and discover, life is barely worth living anymore. If you don’t feed it, your aspirations start feeding on themselves, like an Ouroboros serpent swallowing its own tail. Now is not the time to give up our lofty goals and designs for the conquest of space, just because politicians with stunted imaginations have such a hard time envisioning the need or value of what NASA has given us.