On my way home today, I heard on the radio that John Glenn, Mercury astronaut, senator, and STS astronaut passed away at the age of 95. Mr. Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, and while he wasn’t the first person on earth to do so, his mission was an important one for the United States. I never knew him personally, but I benefit from his work every day.
NASA, and the space program get a bad rap. They do incredible things, pushing the leading edge of technology and the human spirit, but since doing incredible things tends to cost a bunch of money, people don’t really care for them. I believe that many don’t really see the benefit of the work NASA does. However, If we took away all of the technology that we have now as a direct result of the space program, we would all be left lost and wandering. (I mean literally…like…GPS and a whole bunch of other stuff just wouldn’t work.)
I don’t want to focus too much on Mr. Glenn today, but I do want to take this opportunity to look at where the space program has brought us, and where it might lead us in the future, especially as it relates to peace.
I wasn’t born until 1984, but as I read history books from the era of the Cold War, it feels like it must have been a dark time. The United States had developed a weapon so powerful it could wipe out entire cities, and the arms race lead to more and more powerful weapons being developed every day. During the height of the Cold War, there were planes in the air 24/7, constantly ready to unleash a nuclear holocaust in a moments notice. I’ve seen clips of the films where school children are trained to duck and cover in case of nuclear attack, and all around it seemed like an incredibly tense time.
It was around this time that the space race was heating up as well. Obviously the governments of East and West were not going to stand idly by while the other side began it’s conquest of space. Who knew what weapons could be developed, or new resources could be exploited in the vast reaches of space? It was important for both sides to be the best in space, if only to ensure the other side didn’t have an advantage.
As the Soviet Union and the United States vied for supremacy, they enlisted the help of the best and brightest minds in the world, and poured vast quantities of resources into their respective programs as they pursued victory. As history is currently written, the United States won the race by reaching the moon first, and the Soviet Union began to fade into the past, until it eventually crumbled under the weight of it’s own empire.
So what does any of this have to do with peace?
At any point, the East or the West could have used the technologies they were creating to attack each other. At any point, the East and the West could have redirected their massive resources away from space flight, and into funding a war against the other. At any point, the best minds on the planet could have been focused on how best to kill each other, instead of how to break free from the Earth that holds us, and do something incredible and new!
The space race seems so innocent until you realize that it may have been the exact thing to save us from a full blown nuclear conflict. Instead of focusing on death and destruction, we taught ourselves to reach higher than we believed possible! We used our creative energy to actually create, and not to destroy! We took men, who since the beginning had been born, lived, and died on 1 planet, and sent them to the moon!
We strove to reach a higher height.
The space program still fills me with hope for our future.
In 1975, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. shared a handshake between 2 nations in space. The U.S. visited the Mir space station many many times while it was in operation. Through our shared endeavors in space, we found common ground. We brought our resources together, and we shared knowledge with each other. This gives me hope. Our best and brightest minds were focused on working together, instead of working to destroy each other.
If we fast forward to now, Russia and the United States have experienced a significant cooling in relations over the last 5 years, and there have been moments where those relations were positively frigid. Fights over the role of both countries in Syria, Crimea, Ukraine, and Turkey have all been quite tense at times. I’ve heard talk of a renewed cold war, and renewed conflict between superpowers. I don’t know what lies ahead for the two nations now that there is a new president-elect, but things have been more than a little touchy recently.
Through all of this, the United States and Russia have continued to cooperate on the International Space Station. In spite of the politics on the ground, some of humanities finest minds continue to work together to learn more about the earth we share, and the space that surrounds us. They are even creating a new language together.
Peace can be found when we focus on reaching outside of our current boundaries, when we focus not on the distribution of limited resources, but rather the development of new resources and ideas. Peace can be found, when those who are mindful, take the time to learn and understand another culture as they work towards a shared goal. Peace can be found as we strive together to break the bonds our birthplace has put upon us, and reach for the stars.
I often pray for peace on Earth.
I am thankful for peace in space.