Man under the night sky is alone with his destiny. The stars inspire him to create the biggest things of which he is capable: gods, odes, number systems, and the temples and laboratories that house them. It is not a matter of the absolute bigness of these things, for nothing man does is physically big before the stars. It is a matter of the eternal bigness he feels, which his experience of the night reaches to. The stars expose something deep and true. Scientists and lovers know this each in their own way. The unconscious shock of a flaming infinity without enables a tangent space within to break free.
So far as we know, the tiny fragments of the universe embodied in man are the only centres of thought and responsibility in the visible world. If that be so, the appearance of the human mind has been so far the ultimate stage in the awakening of the world; and all that has gone before, the strivings of a myriad of centres that have taken the risk of living and believing, seem to have all been pursuing, along rival lines, the aim now achieved by us up to this point. They are all akin to us. For all these centres--those which led up to our own existence and the far more numerous others which produced different lines of which many are extinct--may be seen engaged in the same endeavor toward ultimate liberation. We may envisage then a cosmic field which called forth all these centres by offering them a short-lived, limited, hazardous opportunity for making some progress of their own towards an unthinkable consummation.
We are the children of this beautiful planet that we have lately seen photographed from the moon. We were not delivered into it by some god, but have come forth from it. We are its eyes and ears, its seeing and its thinking. And the earth, together with its sun, this light around which it flies like a moth, come forth, we are told, from a nebula; and that nebula, in turn, from space. So that we are the mind, ultimately of space. No wonder then, if its laws and ours are the same! Likewise, our depths are the depths of space. . . . Our mythology now, therefore, is to be of infinite space and its light, which is without as well as within. Like moths, we are caught in the spell of its allure, flying to it outward, to the moon and beyond, and flying to it, also, inward.
Something in us wants to get back every memory, every thing we have lost, every thing that was put together ever and once to make us. It is a sickness, but it is a wonder and a gift too. And though nothing in this century has worked out, we still expect to survive intact and to deliver the torch to those who will revive us in some other place in some other way. That is the garden of childhood we come from and return to beyond the stars, and beyond the figments and mirages of space and time.
Then life found itself stymied on the borders of space. There are no biological means where direct application would permit living beings to enter and cross space. It is intriguing to think that life may have answered this challenged by producing a new amphibian--man--whose restless mind reaches beyond the confinements of his biological world. The human brain alone is capable of utilizing certain superior qualities of inorganic matter for entering space.
[Putting a man on the moon] is equal in importance to that moment in evolution when aquatic life came crawling up on the land.
Werner von Braun
Through some biological quirk that distinguishes us from other species, we have nearly always had practical and energetic minorities who make the scientific progress that carries forward the rest. Their work is often despised and ignored--until its benefits become apparent, and everyone steps forward to claim them. Nobody knows why human beings, alone among known species, should have the capacity for original thought. But that gift will take him to the stars.
Men must always travel farther and farther afield, they must always widen their horizons and their interests; that is the will of God. If God didn't want it to be so, He wouldn't have given us the ability and the possibility to make progress and to change.
Werner von Braun
[There is] no reason why humanity cannot take part in the evolution of the cosmos. Human direction of galactic events seems no further beyond our present capabilities than space flight would be to an amoeba--and we are closer in time to the amoeba than we are to our descendents 50 billion years from now.
Stefan T. Possony and Jerry Pournelle
He hardly knew whether the Space Program was the noblest expression of the Twentieth Century or the quintessential statement of our fundamental insanity. It was after all the mark of insanity that its mode of operation was distinguished by its logic--insanity was often more logical than sanity when it came to attacking a problem.
If the sea was a symbol of the unconscious, was space perhaps an image of unfettered time, and the inability to penetrate it a tragic exile to one of the limbos of eternity, a symbolic death in life?
Earth was my home, but even there I was a stranger. This mineral crust. I walk like a swimmer. What titanic bombardments in those old astral wars! I know what I know: I shall never escape from strangeness or complete my journey. Think of me as nostalgic, afraid, exalted. I am your man on the moon, a speck of megalomania, restless for the leap toward island universes pulsing beyond where the constellations set. Infinite space overwhelms the human heart, but in the middle of nowhere life inexorably calls to life. Forward my mail to Mars. What news from the Great Spiral Nebula in Andromeda and Magellanic Clouds?
We are so used to living on a planetary surface that it is a wrench for us even to to consider our normal human activities in another location. If, however, the human race has now reached technical capability to carry on some of its industrial activities in space, we should indulge in the mental exercise of "comparative planetology." We should ask, critically and with appeal to the numbers, whether the best site for a growing advancing industrial society is Earth, the Moon, Mars, some other planet, or somewhere else entirely. Surprisingly, the answer is inescapable: the best site is "somewhere else entirely."
In a roundtable TV interview [O'Neill continues], Isaac Asimov and I were asked why science fiction writers have, almost without exception, failed to point us toward that development. Asimov's reply was a phrase he has now become quite fond of using: "Planetary Chauvinism."
Gerald K. O'Neill
Our species satisfies all too easily the reproductive requirements for peopling the universe. I hope we shall not let that become the compulsion. It will be one thing to move freely into space, to plant life in the cosmic deserts and so to gain elbow room; quite another to recreate another Calcutta across the entire sky.
We know what our race does to strangers. Man destroys or enslaves every species he can. Civilized man murders, enslaves, cheats, and corrupts savage man. Even inanimate nature he turns into dust bowls and slag heaps. There are individuals who don't. But they are not the sort who are likely to be our pioneers in space. Our ambassadors to new worlds will be the needy and greedy adventurer or the ruthless technical expert. They will do as their kind has always done. . . . I have wondered before now whether the vast astronomical distances may not be God's quarantine precautions. They prevent the spiritual infection of a fallen species from spreading.
I do not think living in space is a nice idea. Apart from the danger and discomfort, people will no doubt fight and exploit one another out there, and our descendents will evolve into weird creatures that we might hardly acknowledge as human. But the proposed break-out into the universe is exciting and it has the hallmarks of a successful big idea--of something that people will actually do, almost regardless of the opinions of bystanders. Dreams of adventure, riches or freedom will pull them, while the pressure of population pushes them from behind.
The most radical change in the human condition we can imagine would be an emigration of men from the earth to some other planet. . . . Neither labor nor work nor action, nor, indeed, thought as we know it would then make sense any longer.
One could hold the thought that the real function of the Wasp has not been to create Protestantism, capitalism, the corporation, or a bastion against Communism, but the Wasp has emerged from human history in order to take us to the stars. How else to account for the strong, severe, Christian, missionary, hell-raising, hypocritical, ideologically simple, patriotic, stingy, greedy, God-fearing, nature-despoiling, sense-destroying, logic-making, technology-deploying, brave human machine of a wasp.
There is no uncannier notion than that of the abandoned earth, abandoned by human beings. People tend to think they emigrate, if for no other reason than to take along their memory of the earth. They could never be as well off as here. Far reaching instruments would have to enable them to observe the world but without recognizing what they have lost, an inexhaustible homeland, and the false religion to which they have to ascribe this loss would already have been traded in, far too late, for another. One can assume that this new religion would be the right one; had it come in time, it would have saved the earth for mankind.
The great illusion of our "space age" is that we can escape the earthly consequences of our arrogance by leaving the mother planet either for little ersatz worlds of our own making or for distant celestial bodies, some of them as yet undiscovered. This is an immature and irresponsible idea, that having fouled this world with our inventions, we will somehow do better in other orbits. However, if one sees humanism for what it is, a religion without God, then the idea is not so strange: space with its space stations and space inhabitants is just a replacement for heaven with its angels. Even the idea of immortality is there, fuzzy like everything else in this imaginary humanist domain--for if one looks closely at the writings of the futurologists and the would-be L-5 pioneers one finds hazy references to relativity and time-warps, ways of making immense journeys of many light-years distance without dying, except perhaps with reference to the people left behind on earth. Space is nothing more than a watered-down heaven for modern unbelievers. Only now we have located heaven more precisely in the solar system than in the days when Dante wrote about paradise.
All this world is heavy with the promise of greater things, and a day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thought and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one who stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars.
The Space Migrant's reply to the socialist's complaint [about the extravagant wastefulness of space exploration] is, of course, "let the meek inherit the earth; we have farther-out plans."
The interstellar distances cannot be a permanent barrier to life's expansion. Once life has learned to encapsulate itself against the cold and the vacuum of space, it can survive interstellar voyages and seed itself, wherever starlight and water and essential nutrients are to be found. . . . There will be problems for life to solve in adapting itself to planets of various sizes or to interstellar dust clouds.. . . But one thing that our descendents will not be able to do is to stop the expansion of life once it is well started. The power to control the expansion will be for a short time in our hands, but ultimately life will find its own ways with or without our help.
Man's gray technology is also a part of nature . . . used by her for her own purposes. It was, and will remain, essential for making the jump from earth to space. The grey technology was nature's trick, invented to enable life to escape from earth. The green technology of genetic manipulation was another trick of nature, invented to enable life to adapt rapidly and purposely rather than slowly and randomly to her new home, so that she could not only escape from earth but spread and diversify and run loose in the universe.
At last the human brain, ensconced in a computer, has been liberated from the weaknesses of mortal flesh. Connected to cameras, instruments and engine controls, the brain sees, feels, and responds to stimuli. It is in control of its own destiny. The machine is its body; it is the machine's mind. The union of mind and machine has created a new form of exis- tence, as well designed for life in the future as man is designed for life on the African savanna.
It seems to me that this must be the mature form of intelligent life in the Universe. Housed in indestructible lattices of silicon, and no longer constrained in the span of its years by the life and death cycle of a biological organism, such a kind of life could live forever. It would be the kind of life that could leave its parent planet to roam the space between the stars. Man as we know him will never make that trip, for the passage takes a million years. But the artificial brain, sealed within the protective hull of a star ship, and nourished by electricity collected from starlight, could last a million years or more. For a brain living in a computer, the voyage to another star would present no problems.
Our cosmic imperialism is a joke. We are still strangers to our own planet and to ourselves. We are in no position to conquer other planets, let alone galaxies. . . . We cannot force our way into those green fields by a life-extension narcotic or a starship. Our "meaning" already lies in the cosmos, and our youth is an eternal return.
We live in the world where we arose, completely suited by God, evolution, or both, to its conditions. Unless we abuse it terribly, it keeps us alive even if we forget about it or ignore it. When our created systems malfunction, as they always do sooner or later, the Earth is still there to hold us and keep us while we tinker with our broken creations. In space, when the rockets misfire, when the O rings and backup O rings fail, when the captain loses his mind, or when the waste- purifying algae develop a disease, as they all must sooner or later, then the story is over. If we could create a truly complete life support system to sustain us in space, then we would have created the Earth.