Saturday, April 27, 2013

the frozen frontier

"There’s a sense in which Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 argument about how the idea of the frontier shaped American history can apply to the entire modern project. Exploration, expansion, the promise that a better life was just a long voyage away — all of these helped fuel the sense of historical mission, the assumption of perpetual progress, which shaped and defined the modern age. Go back and read the science fiction of the 1940s and ’50s, and you’ll be struck by the vaulting confidence that this expansion would continue upward and outward, and that a new age of exploration was just waiting to be born.Today that confidence has vanished. Our Mars rovers are impressive and our billionaires keep pouring money into private spaceflight, but neither project captures the public’s imagination, and the very term “Space Age” seems antique. "

from a NYT column by Ross Douthat about the discovery this month of not one but two Earth-like planets circling the star Kepler 62

"The Kepler 62 discovery might have earned more headlines at a less horrific moment [i.e. the week of the Boston marathon bombing and the Texas explosion] but it would have fallen out of the news soon enough. It’s possible that we’re less interested in space travel because we feel that it’s a luxury good at a time when we have bigger problems here on Earth. But it’s also possible that we’ve gradually turned inward, to our smartphone screens and Facebook profiles, because we know that spaceflight isn’t going to get us to another world anytime soon

"Obviously exploration is not a cure for unhappiness or evil. But it can be an antidote to the mix of anxiety and exhaustion that seems to permeate the developed world these days.And after a week as grimly claustrophobic as this one... it seems worth hoping that the human desire for wider horizons — for new worlds to wonder at, reach for and understand — will someday be fulfilled again. 

"Time to get to work on that warp drive."

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