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It's Been A Long Road

Tragedies on the Journey to the Future.

by Jonathan Wilson
February 1, 2003

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It's Been A Long Road_Jonathan Wilson-Tragedies on the Journey to the Future. Five men and two women, representing the aspirations of three nations and most of the civilized world, have perished today while taking the risks that the future requires. Pondering the tragedy, I recall the opening words to the theme of Star Trek: Enterprise, "It's been a long road getting from there to here..."

The long road has perils as well. When seven astronauts die, adding to the list of fatalities that stretch back to 1986 and 1968, we might ponder the meaning and purpose of it all. We wonder why God allows mechanical failures. We wonder if the journey to near space is worth the money and the risk to life.

Pessimists in my generation--the GenX post-moderns who are now grown-up and working and teaching at universities, talk about the "myth of progress." Have these technologies and space travel really made life better?

The answer is, of course, that life is better and progress is not a myth in the nations that have moved forward. Those who would want to trade the median American lifestyle for the lifestyle of 1850, with sky-high infant mortality and average life-expectancy around 45, are crazy.

It is complacency regarding this lifestyle that causes the crisis of meaning and leads to the conclusion that progress is a myth and a failure. People who are saturated with materialism tend to be nihilists: It was as true in ancient Rome as it is today. The problem with complacency and nihilism is that it leads to risk aversion.

We forget that necessity is the mother of invention; that genius is 90% perspiration; that suffering is the catalyst to change. Those who have everything and see reality only in the terms of being born with an entitlement to comfort, are the ones who conclude that risk and progress are meaningless.

Despite these pessimists, there are people ready and willing to take the risks that progress into the future require. The tragedy today cuts deep, because we value the heroes who move us forward and realize that when they perish, they die for all of us.

However, their deaths are not meaningless nor in vain. People will continue to work to improve processes and technologies which will have the effect of making these tragedies in space even more rare than they already are.

It's a long road, and dangerous. It is also meaningful, even necessary, that we follow this road where risk is embraced and heroes are both celebrated and mourned.

Thank you, NASA. Keep it up. My great-great-grandchildren are depending on you.

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