Where’s our sense of wonder?

We as a society have become jaded by the banalities of modern existence.

The idea of travelling beyond the reaches of our planet’s confines has become something of a given; the frequency of trips to the ISS has relegated space travel to just another fact of daily life. With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle programme, this has further propelled the notion that space has become common, that humans choose to obsess over trivial things rather than contemplate the big questions out there.

Our sense of wonder has left us, to be replaced with the pressures of 9-5 living, of surviving the next day, and the day after, existing for the weekend or that holiday that will proffer us an ounce of reprieve from the stress of the now. We’ve forgotten what it was like to be caught up in the excitement of one of our species venturing forth into the unknown, discovering something new and taking us as a civilisation just a step further.

We’ve forgotten what it was like to be amazed, to be awe-inspired by the wonders of exploration. With the moon conquered, with Everest scaled, we’ve become a little too complacent with our position on Earth. Issues arising from that double-edged sword of industrialisation and political bureaucracy have resulted in a stagnation of appreciation for the beauty that is discovery. Many aren’t phased by the heroic missions of astronauts on the ISS.

What we need is something truly spectacular to rekindle that feeling of the Apollo days, the Space Shuttle days. The launch of a Soyuz from the deserts of Russia offers some of that excitement; last year’s chilling free-fall jump by Felix Baumgartner was another moment when humanity collectively witnessed something amazing in the name of going into the unknown. We need more of these moments. More of those fragments of time when the troubles of today can be put into the perspective of a grander vision of existence.

As we progressively advance our technologies, and science continues its relentless pace forward, I do hope that this generation, and the ones following it, will keep this momentum going and inspire those moments of wonder that validate us as the curious creatures that we are.


Arthur C. Clarke – Islands in the Sky

Space-travel was certainly a complicated affair – so complicated that it sometimes depressed me. Then I remembered that these men didn’t seem any cleverer than I was: they were highly trained, that was all. If one worked hard enough, one could master anything.

–Arthur C. Clarke, author of “Islands in the Sky.”

SpaceX: Boldly Going into the Future

Yesterday, South African-born billionaire entrepreneur, inventor and engineer, and founder of eBay, PayPal and SpaceX, Elon Musk, launched the first private attempt to dock with the International Space Station. This bold move goes down in history as the beginnings of a new frontier in space exploration – the age of private spaceflight.

I’ve been following the private sector’s developments in space technology for some time now. You may be wondering why the big cable news networks and blogs are making such a fuss over the Falcon 9 rocket’s launch. The gist is this: before President Obama came into power, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (known as NASA to non-space geeks) had this brilliant, yet exceptionally expensive plan for a programme that would take-over from the aging space shuttle fleet (the STS, or space transportation system programme that’s been a large part of NASA’s recent history). It was called the Constellation Programme, and the idea was to return to the moon by around 2017, and from there, move to a human landing on Mars or an asteroid. They’d even begun testing new rocket-engine technology and had developed three concept vehicles based on an engine called the Ares. Things were looking good for NASA, until Obama came into the White House, and, inheriting a poor-administered political landscape and having to begin a term of office in what was probably the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, he effectively cut all funding for the Constellation Programme. Just like that, the excitement at returning to our cosmological neighbor was brought to a standstill.

NASA thus decided to outsource its rocket building activities to the private sector, so that they could focus on astronomical research, and at the same time, give themselves more time to work on a new rocket system that could fulfill at least some of the objectives of the scrapped Constellation programme. SpaceX is one such private company that has shown significant potential in developing and successfully launching a vehicle that, it is expected, by 2014 will be able to allow the United States to launch their own astronauts to the ISS and not rely on their partners at ROSCOSMOS (the Russian Federal Space Agency).

SpaceX has proved that it is possible to engineer a space vehicle at a fraction of the cost of what governmental agencies spend on this type of design work. Yet it also opens up the skies to a myriad number of designers, engineers and future thinkers who are willing and ready to contribute to the advancement of our civilisation, a future that is certainly embedded firmly in the realm of the stars.