black hole galaxy illustration

A Brief Meditation On Space Exploration

I have decided I am not going to space.

Not that I was invited to go, nor do I have any reason to think I might ever have a real opportunity to do so. As one of my friends once so eloquently put it, “Unless you’re rich, well-connected, or want to be an indentured servant, good luck.” But even if I did fit somewhere in that list, I’d like to think my opinion on the matter wouldn’t really change. I am not going to space. End of story.

When I explained this to my good friend, she said future generations would someday laugh at my convictions. “It’s like how our grandparents scoffed at cell phones,” she said. “And now, look, they all have them.” Which is, I guess, true and not true—my grandmother may own an iPhone, but you still have to call the landline to get ahold of her. Still, it’s hard for me to compare a pocket-sized computer with the idea of leaving behind all my loved ones and earthly possessions to rocket myself into the stratosphere and then, eventually, to a planet that’s likely uninhabitable for humans without the right technology—a technology that will, again, probably be monopolized by the rich and famous, neither of which I have any realistic plans to be.

Maybe it is, to some degree, my stubborn self-righteousness. I hold my moral beliefs so close to me that I can be a little blinded. But I can’t overlook how unethical it feels to run off to a new planet while we’re actively destroying the one we live on now—it feels like a cop out, like an excuse not to try to do better. Not to mention I have no interest in the colonial mindset of needing to expand and conquer. Can we ever just mind our own business? Can we let nothing be?

And then, again, there’s the elitism of it all. Just this week, someone paid $28 million to take an 11-minute space trip with Jeff Bezos. Think of all the positive ways $28 million could improve your life, and then imagine throwing it all away to essentially go on a cosmic roller coaster with the Amazon guy for less than the time it takes to make a frozen pizza. (Alternatively, imagine having $28 million to blow and not using it to actively get away from Jeff Bezos.) It’s hard to imagine someone from the working class even having the opportunity to take the big red Tesla to Mars without significant strings attached.

I could go on and on about it if I wanted to, but I know there’s no point. I’ve already made up my mind. Because in the end, if I’m being 100% honest, the truth is this: When it comes to space exploration, I just… don’t care.

Which is funny, because this is exactly the kind of thing most people would expect me to care about. I’m someone who most people would consider a little spacey—pun mostly intended. I spent my whole childhood dreaming of other worlds. I had a star map taped to my wall and little glow-in-the-dark planets tacked onto my ceiling and even one of those projectors that would light up my room like the night sky. In fact, my home state’s motto is “Ad astra per aspera”—”to the stars through hardship.” It was a phrase that acted as the foundation on which my worldview was built.

No, it’s not that I don’t care about space itself—in actuality, I’m a total nerd for it. Take me to a planetarium and I could keep myself preoccupied for hours. Give me a telescope and I’d spend nearly every night searching the constellations. Tell me aliens exist and—well, honestly, I’d probably be unfazed. The idea of extraterrestrial lifeforms has never scared me the way Hollywood hoped it would. Sometimes I think the only reason we expect aliens to be violent invaders is because, if the tables were turned, that’s exactly what we would become. I’d like to think they’re different, though. At this point, it’s comforting to think there’s something beyond our flawed little world.

But just because I believe something more is out there doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the need to go find it. I find ancient tombs fascinating too, but I’m not about to go dig them up just for the fun of it. Is that so wrong of me? Does the fact that I don’t feel the need to probe every unexplored corner of the universe mean I lack curiosity? Or can it simply mean that I enjoy the mystery of not knowing everything this life contains? I like to let my imagination fill in the gaps. Does that make me romantic or just old-fashioned? Maybe all romantics are old-fashioned in one way or another—it has something to do with the glorification of nostalgia, I think.

I do wonder when my idealism will become more of a barrier than a compass, though. When it comes to the advancement of technology, there are a lot of hypotheticals I don’t particularly care for. Travel by time machine? No thanks, I’ve seen enough movies to understand the repercussions. Travel by teleportation device? I’m good, I learned about the teletransportation paradox in my philosophy class and I’m not about to suffer the existential crisis. Travel by spaceship? Well, you know where I stand with that. At this point in time, I don’t even have a whole lot of interest in traveling by self-driving car. I’d like to think I’m being logical, level-headed, but is it possible that my caution blinds me to innovation? Progress is often born from risk, but something in my gut shies away from the prospect of playing god. Because as the goalposts move and the end goal evolves, that’s what it all begins to feel like to me.

And I know at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think. Space exploration is inevitable; humankind will move on to the next shiny thing with or without me. Intergalactic vacationing will dominate the tourism industry. Space Force will be… probably relevant eventually. Someone will find a way to colonize Mars as part of the billionaire space race. Maybe everyone I know will move on to other planets someday. And it’s all fucking terrifying. Because intergalactic expansion is one thing, but it’s nothing compared to the idea of being left behind.

What becomes of a world that’s been abandoned? What becomes of a society that’s given up on itself? What becomes of a woman who’s left stranded in her own home?

I wish I had more answers. It’s all very up in the air—pun mostly not intended. All I know is that I was once a girl who dreamed of living among the stars, but now that it’s become a conceivable possibility, I don’t want it anymore. Perhaps dreams, like stars, are more beautiful from a distance anyway.

Callie is a writer, editor, and publisher at Thought Catalog. Her debut book, ‘The Words We Left Behind,’ is available for pre-order before its January 9, 2024 release.

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