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Monday, June 25, 2007
(8:58 AM) | Stephen:
Slipping The Surly Bonds Of Earth

It's so easy to forget that there are over 6 billion human beings on this planet, and that among the wars, natural disasters, diseases, injustices and crimes there are many, many people who do remarkable things every day. From new cancer-fighting drugs to human-computer interfaces that allow people to control prosthetic limbs or laptop PCs, to the small child who spends her day in the refugee camp following the antics of an industrious beetle and therefore finds joy, and fun, in the midst of what would surely cause me to sink into irredeemable despair.

It's also easy to forget that not every human being lives on Earth, that we have a permanent outpost in the sky. Work on the International Space Station began 9 years ago, and a new set of solar panels have just been added. The Astronomy Picture of the Day has a series of photos that chronicles the changes:

January 2, 2002

December 8, 2002

September 20, 2006

June 25, 2007

You're probably all aware of the various arguments for why our continued presence and exploration of space is important in spite of the many problems confronting us here on Earth. I'm not very concerned with those, though I am grateful for the advances in technology that have occurred because of our space program.

What is truly important about a permanent human presence in space, why it matters that we don't cede our explorations entirely to computers and robots is more spiritual in nature. Leaving this planet in order to clearly see the stars, in order to walk upon alien worlds says that what it means to be human is that we never accept what we know right now, that we always strive to see more, to know more, to be more.

I want to live long enough for there to be a permanent human presence on Mars, with the possibility for civilians to travel there. I want to go to Mars, land on an alien world, taste the dirt. I want to be able to walk on the surface of the planet, stand on a hillside and watch the sunset. Then I will take off my helmet, breathe the Martian air and die. And no, it won't be anything like Total Recall.

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