Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Shuttle Program, Me, and the Ants.

I saw the International Space Station overhead the other night - my first time. It was particularly moving to think that Endeavour was docking for the final time, even as I watched. All these years of following NASA's  space adventures, even (it's true!) seeing Sputnik regularly overhead back in the 50s, and still I'm enthralled. My son is a science writer, exclusively about space, particularly with the production of a huge tome which is the last word on the history of the Shuttle program, so I've always been aware of every flight, experiment details, and hardware, almost down to the last widget.

But seeing Endeavour up there on a clear, cold, starry night in Sydney, reminded me of just how very insignificant we are. We may not have been in space ourselves, but I think we all can imagine how Earth must appear to those brave folk up there. And they are brave. We've almost stopped feeling that clutch at our stomach when NASA control says 'Lift Off!', if we even bother to watch the news stories, because we've become used to and somewhat blase about those regular flights, but it is no less dangerous today than it was thirty years ago.

So it occurs to me that our rather frenzied rushing around down here (in the privacy of our own homes much of the time) texting, Skyping, Facebooking, Twittering, whatever, is all so much like little ants in their colonies, although what they do means life or death to them. Not sure what real purpose our social networking serves in the grand scheme of things, although I realize a lot of people would suffer terribly without it. All this busy-ness, all this communication...we would be rich if were paid by the hour to perform these tasks as real work.

As an aside, my own internet access died for an hour the other day, and I panicked. My way of life was threatened. I found myself sitting bleary-eyed, mentally thinking of all the things I couldn't achieve without it. I'm a writer, but my work is never printed and mailed. (Mailed?) I also imagined I might have to physically go into my bank. I certainly don't have checks to pay bills with. Is my branch still there? So many things crossed my mind, and then, miraculously, I got my online access back and life returned to normal. Such a relief.

I am a writer, yet I owe a letter to a dear friend in Canada, who doesn't have a computer. All these months, I keep reminding myself that I have to write that letter, and mail it. No success so far. I don't own a printer (see no point in hardcopy anything, really, except books), so I will have to write it by hand. I have nice handwriting, although I don't get to practice it too often, but the idea of taking a pen and putting my thoughts onto a sheet of paper by hand is anathema. Which makes me what kind of friend? A lousy one, I guess. One who emails and Skypes all the time, but who can't write a nice newsy letter and mail it.

Every day, I'm like one of those little ants, busy, busy, in love with my laptop, researching (often time-wasting on cute things that catch my eye), trying to get into flow with my fifth novel, wishing my other novels would be published. And none of it is a life or death imperative.

So the other night I looked up in wonder at the Space Station, which  seemed so close, like a firefly I could almost touch. It will never be seen as bright again after Atlantis's final flight. The Shuttle adds an extra third mass to it. (Thanks for that, Lee.)

And I found myself wondering how we must appear to those astronauts up there. A bit silly a lot of the time, I should think.

Quotes to Consider

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." ~Benjamin Franklin

"Well behaved women rarely make history."~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”~William G.T. Shedd (1820-1894), theologian, teacher, pastor

"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." ~Franklin D Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. president

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), essayist, poet, philosopher

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
~ Wayne Gretzky