1 February 2003
I can't think of a better way to die than
winking out with no warning - no time to
worry or to weep or even to pray - with the
gorgeous Earth and numberless stars imprinted
on my retinas and my heart. Sorrow comes
to those who are left behind, yes, and there
be no comparison possible with other sorrows,
other circumstances. Someone we love is gone
- just that simple, happens every day, everywhere.
But usually when it happens it's for stupid
reasons. A car accident, an aneurysm, a cancer,
a starvation, a suicide, collateral damage.
The crew of the Columbia died enacting the
dream of humanity unfolding into space. No
Yes, the talking dog said, yes, we will keep
going in space. And then in a hard right
turn he veered off from the stars to "the
god who named them," astronomers, storytellers,
millennia-gone elders notwithstanding. And
from that he leapt to the "god who remembers
our names," thereby invoking the same
banal cliché as the plot of that horrible
second Star Trek movie, where the point of the mission was
to find God, as if all our searching were
for an entity who gives names and articulates
rules, a guy with a long grey beard astride
his throne among the unruly stars. To the
credit of Gene Roddenberry, even that lame
script had the redeeming feature of debunking
(albeit with really bad special effects)
the idea that exploration of the wonders
of space and the quest for God were identical,
in the same headspace, or sought by the same
means. I support the space program as a Human,
not as a subscriber to the Constitutionally
criminal concatenation of Christianity and
Americanism that our barking president proclaims.
To die in space. I speculate that the body
and soul are fused, intellectual and spiritual
aspects merging. When one dies in an instant,
I think that one's essence crystallizes forever,
as in a rock, a star, the deep dark endless
between. May we not violate the dead by appropriating
their motives. May we not arbitrarily rename
the quest for knowledge and experience in
space as the quest for God as an entity somewhere
out there, "father away" (as the
man said) than all we can see. Only those
souls who died knew what motivated them,
and it may have been many goals on many planes,
seeking, perhaps, divine intersection somewhere
near the heart. To quote Doctor Bronner,
"All One, All One." But let us
not presume, Mr. Bush, let us not presume.
If I could choose my own death, it would
be that one, there with those people, on
that mission, on the Columbia. If I could
choose the future, it would be to keep that
possibility open for all of us: to unfold
rather than to collapse, to boldly go rather
than to fall back and send inanimate proxies.
Space cannot be known nor its wonders and
opportunities grasped by mechanical hands.
Robots won't live there as we humans might. We have the means to
go forth and be present in other regions
of this magnificent universe. Seven women
and men made that choice in full awareness
of the risks, and behind them seventy thousand
more would make the same, even after Apollo
1, Soyuz 11, Challenger, Columbia. I would
be one of them.
Robots are not designed for epiphany. They
won't, as far as I can see, be able to process
space on spiritual and scientific axes simultaneously.
And even if they could, I'd knock them unapologetically
out of the way as I strode to the front of
All that death can teach us about is life.
May we take a lesson from these seven souls
and go forward, forward, up and out, out
and in (as said Joseph Campbell), toward
an understanding of the divinity of everything.
You don't have to go up and out to encounter
the divine, but there's more of the divine
to encounter if you do.