I was asked to do this a little while ago- by a professional astronomer, no less- so, here it is.
Well. Okay. It wasn't a little while ago; it was months. And she didn't so much ask me as she did inspire me to promise, proactively, that I would. She really is an astronomer, though, and that is the crux. She is one of those people who actually does the thing that scribblers like me only dream about. Such promises made to such people must be fulfilled or, y'know, woe betide.
It took me too long to write this because, well, it just did, that's all, and I'm sorry. Can we just begin, please? Thank you.
What this is, as you can see from the heading, is something to do with space. That's right: all that twinkling black nothing that rotates overhead every night (if you're lucky enough to live somewhere where the sky is actually visible over the nocturnal urban haze.) SPACE.
Except it's not empty, is it? No, it turns out "space" is chock full of all manner of exotic, even impossible stuff. Dark matter. Super Earth's. Ancient gamma ray spewing black holes. Just all sorts of wacky stuff. I'm surprised there's any room to move around at all. Turns out all that Empty isn't.
I don't honestly remember when I first started thinking of Space as an actual place but it was fairly early. I'm slightly younger than NASA, I think- by about a decade. So you can say I grew up with space the way people in their 20s grew up with MTV. It was just there from the time I started thinking about it. As a place, I mean.
As a kid my dad and I would watch Star Trek reruns on our local station. On camping trips to the desert or the Pacific Northwest we would lie out and look up and he would talk about how far away this star was or how long light took to reach us from the Sun. I think I remember some of the early space walks being televised on CBS, narrated with appropriate gravitas by Walter Cronkite. I might even remember this:
Though that may be apocryphal.
All I know is that I decided early on that I wanted something to do with Space. I wanted somehow to get there, to touch it, to see for myself what what really going on Out There.
It was a decade before I realized that this was one of the most fundamental human desires, indeed, maybe one of the defining ones. Gods live in the sky, after all. It's where rain and lightning come from. Who wouldn't want to get up there and take a personal look around?
Cyrano de Bergerac wrote about going there. Jules Verne, of course. Over the millennia a veritable army of fictioneers have put pen to paper or inky finger to cave wall to describe their weird compulsion for posterity. It's almost like we all know something is missing from our terrestrial lives, some piece of our collective soul, maybe, that can only be found Out There.
So I went through the Astronomy phase, learning the placement and names of the constellations and the insane distances between and ages of the stars that made them up. I collected NASA emblems that could be stuck to school books or refrigerators or, God forbid, my mother's Camero door.
I played Spaceman, building elaborate "lunar survival equipment" out of styrofoam packing and bits of broken radio parts. I was going there, you see, eventually I was going and I had to get ready. I had to make sure everything I was was focused on getting Out There.
But it was all fantasy. Even with all the facts from parents and school to erode the false impression I'd got from the fictioneers, I just couldn't shake the idea that there was a whole vast civilization Out There, with evil dictators and heroic adventurers and smoking hot princesses of all shapes and hues just waiting to be rescued (what was to be done with them after the rescues was always muddy but I figured I'd noodle it when the time came). Bradbury and Herbert owned me at a frighteningly early age.
And, of course it all got muddied further with the arrival of comic book superheroes and films like FORBIDDEN PLANET and ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. I just knew Space was like a massive theme park and I only had to wait long enough to grow up and get my own E ticket.
And then this came along.
Causes Geoffrey Thorne Supports
Operation USA, Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders,