In the midst of a cold and frozen week, a text from Heather sent me out of this world: “perseverance touched down on Mars ok.”
Over the next several minutes, I couldn’t have missed it if I wanted to. Images. News stories. Cartoons. And of course, posts up and down social media, all celebrating the same thing: The Perseverance rover had made a perfect landing on Mars and was already sharing its surroundings with one and all.
A big geeky smile spread across my face. For a moment, the impossibilities of the world didn’t seem to matter.
For just a moment, we were on higher ground.
My friends know that I’ve been a space geek for a long time. In grade school, I devoured books about the solar system and spacecraft, and then watched the moon eagerly with Dad through a Christmas-gift telescope. As I grew up, my heart was broken by Challenger, amazed by comet Hale-Bopp, and utterly overwhelmed by the images from Hubble. Even now, the Great Beyond has never lost its magic and wonder for me, from midday eclipses to fiery black holes.
And every now and then, I’m brought up short when someone says “So what?”
Mind you, it’s a seductive thing to say. After all, here we are, fenced in our homes, waiting for a vaccine to set us free – maybe. Here we are, in the depths of a bitter winter, watching much of Texas go dark in the world. It’s easy to be pulled “down to Earth,” easy to say “Don’t we have more important things to worry about?”
For me, there’s always an “And yet.” It goes beyond the obvious, like the spin-off technologies from the space program that make life better on Earth. (Like say, those weather satellites that enable us to prepare for freezes like this.) It even goes beyond the notion that space and Earth are not an either-or, that attending to one does not automatically mean neglecting the other.
For me, it goes down to something deeper. More aspirational.
Moments like this prove that we’re capable of better.
They show that we can look beyond ourselves and our immediate needs to something grander.
They show that our perspective doesn’t have to be limited to our own doorstep.
They show that we can still ignite imagination, reach out with learning, and achieve wonders that once would have seemed impossible.
Most of all, moments like this show that we can hope. That we can dream. That we don’t have to be locked into a perpetual cycle of despair.
Looked at from that angle, the question isn’t “If we can land a vehicle on Mars, why can’t we keep Texas warm?” It instead becomes “If we can land a vehicle on Mars, what else could we possibly do?”
There are real and serious needs here on Earth. Despair won’t beat any of them. But if we face them with diligence, wonder, creativity and hope, we just may find a way forward.
We’re in a time now where even much of our science fiction – a language of dreams – is tied down in dystopic visions of grim survival. If we look out rather than burrow in, if we dare to give our dreams a chance, who knows what we might prove capable of?
Let’s set our hopes high. As high as the stars. And then labor to make them real.
After all, we’ve seen how that can put a world of possibilities in reach.
All it takes is a little Perseverance.