For all you people who were still hitting the YouTube replay button on Britney's comeback video from the VMAs, and missed it, October 4 was a big anniversary for Earthlings, because Sputnik was launched 50 years ago, ushering in the boomer generation's excuse to spend trillions in abject fear.
Now, clearly I missed this the first time around, but luckily I had a government-certified elementary school history teacher back my formative year to tell me the significance of it all. Apparently this caused a big fuss at the time because it signalled the commies' technical domination of us, leading to people taking off their shoes at the UN and providing a boon for Popular Mechanics magazine and Quikrete alike as the new family fad of bombshelter living went to new heights. Yes, these were heady political days, when it was easy to forget that...
...Humans actually put something into outer space. You see, up until October 4, 1957, the only chance you had of getting off the Earth in any meaningful sense (and for these purposes I’m counting the atmosphere as part of “the Earth”) was to either be a very light atom and hang around the upper atmosphere for a few million years on the off chance of being struck by a particularly energetic ray of UV light, or to be somewhat heavier and way for a few million years for a big rock to collide with the Earth and then maybe, just maybe, you’d get a free ride. Unfortunately, you’d be extinct along with everything else bigger than a marmot, or you’d be an atom.
It is, I think, a similar issue to the risk assessment shortcomings of Human Beings in general. The best example of this is airplanes vs. cars. It is basically a wash. But people in general feel more nervous flying than getting in a car. I do, okay, I admit it.
People can't handle big numbers. The amount of energy needed in a small amount of time in a directed, controlled fashion to get to orbit is unreal. That is why things blow up on the way up.
But stepping beyond the numbers, it's really not about that. Humanity has stumbled on something in the last 500 years or so - I think they call it "science" - that makes big numbers small quickly. Ask Gordon Moore. October 4th is our Columbus Day. Most frontiers are settled slowly and incrementally in something of a Brownian motion. This is how it worked for the first, oh, million years of human existence. Columbus is interesting because it was a discrete step. The Chinese did something like it in 1430 or so with Zheng He, rounding the horn of Africa before Vasco da Gama. Then they torched the fleet and withdrew into 500 years of xenophobia.
It's not like you can just slowly work your way into space. You can live your 30 miles up and hope your kids reach 31. You have to jump really high, all at once.
That's not normal or natural, but it is absolutely necessary. It's my passion, and I'm somewhat embarrassed that it took a World War and a Cold War to get there.
You'll probably read lots of articles about how slow the progress has been in space in the last 30 years since Sputnik. This is bunk. We are opening the most difficult frontier in the history of history. Not only is it far away an tough to get to, but there is nothing there that we can't get here cheaper (yet). There are no people there to trade with. And even though Daniel Boone had to kill his own food, at least he didn't have to manufacture his own air.
In other words, my passion and dream is to open the space frontier. But don't feel bad for me if it doesn't work out in my lifetime. This is a big job, and I gotta admit it was kicked into orbit (so to speak) by some pretty unfortunate circumstances. Now, the real wave of progress is catching up. I think we ride this one to the end. I sure will.