There is tremendous worldwide sorrow over the loss of the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle. It's much greater than the sadness that would attend the loss of a 747 with 350 people aboard.
There is a reason for this, and it is a good one: our astronauts are at the leading edge of human endeavour. They are carefully chosen for their accomplishments, abilities and general excellence. They are the best we have, striding into danger with a smile and a wave.
Among the most vivid memories of my life are the moment when the Apollo capsule burned in January of 1967, and the stunning sight of Challenger exploding. I will never forget the power of those images, the shock, and then the deep, abiding fear that crept in afterward.
It was not fear of some future accident, but fear that we will lose our faith in ourselves, and abandon space. Already I have seen calls by congressmen to scale back manned space in favor of robotic exploration. NASA is held in almost as much contempt by congress as Amtrak, if for different blind and foolish reasons.
All of my adult life, I have heard the voice of the past screaming, "we have to solve our problems here on earth before we go into space." That argument, repeated as necessary by both the left and the right, has stifled our space program and compromised the most precious asset that we possess, which is our vision of the future.
We will never solve our problems here on earth. In fact, if we ever enter space in great numbers, we will take our problems with us, and find new ones to face out there.
I have a very strange sort of a perspective on this. I have been with people from other worlds. I have even traveled with them--although, unfortunately, never to the places high and far where even the meanest human heart knows that we belong.
I have felt the peculiar anguish of knowing that it's possible to make grand journeys in the stars, because I have seen those who have done it. What I have seen, what precious things.
I have told perhaps ten percent of what I have actually experienced. In part, this is because I simply cannot understand how to tell a great deal of it. But also, and more importantly, I have held it to myself because it is sacred knowledge, and I have a hard time seeing it profaned and discarded, as it is. I try as best I can, but only a tiny, select group of people respond--and never the scientists, the philosophers, the ones with the best skills and the best training, and the best chance to understand.
Imagine, if science had taken the close encounter experience to heart, found the message that has been planted in all the millions of us it has touched, and responded to that message?
We would be in communication with another world right now.
Or if our scientific leaders would really study the crop circles for what they are, instead of indulging themselves in the childish lies that enable them to ignore this knowledge, also. Or the implants--they're real and they are not explained. The proof is incontrovertible. But the knowledge they and the people who bear them represent is being thrown away like so much garbage.
After I published Communion, I saw this sublime experience distorted and twisted by the culture, until all that was left among the broad mass of people were a few tired, mean jokes about rectal probes.
Knowing for certain that we have a rich and valid destiny waiting for us in space, as part of the cosmos, a partner in the great exchange of conscious life that flickers across the cold and empty reaches of the sky, this broke my heart. The reason is simple: my book was a challenge laid down at the feet of a great species, a temptation to gather the knowledge that can be ours--and instead of science beginning to harvest this knowledge, the response was lies, denial, jokes and, finally, a wintry silence.
And yet, the chance still lies before us, as ripe and ready as ever it has been.
Those who live in the stars have no secrets from us. Our path into space is lying before us. A concerted scientific effort could unlock the secrets of UFOs, of faster than light travel, of the cunning dance that steps through time. These riches lie all around us, but we will not pick them up.
So, when I see something like the crash of the space shuttle, I feel that old fear once again, that we will close our eyes altogether to the journey for which God in glory created us, and begin to die.
The alternatives are very stark. Sink or swim. Be born to the cosmos or die here in the debris of an exhausted world. When you spend time with the visitors, you learn to think in long perspective--not in terms of two years or five or--God forbid- -twenty-five, but in terms of centuries and millenia and eons.
Where will mankind be in a century? In a thousand years? In ten thousand? These are rich, enormously valid questions, and the most important part of our answer has to do with space. For if we are not fully invested in space, living among the stars, in a hundred years we will be living hard on this old earth, a struggling, desperate horde too weighted by our cares to rise.
Among the things that will happen is that excessive use of the planet will reduce the ability of the air to recharge, and oxygen content will start to fall. As it does, the brain's effectiveness will be compromised. Our ability to use our minds will therefore drop, at a time when every bit of intelligence we possess will be crucial to our survival. This has not happened yet, but the danger is there. Every slight decrease in oxygen content will reduce us a little bit, until, in the end, we will be too diminished to save ourselves.
The visitors know the stark mathematics of this, the day and the hour. On behalf of our integrity, though, they will not intervene among us, not directly. They would rather see us lost than turned into mere supplicants after their power.
If we are going to get the brass ring, we must grasp it ourselves.
There is only one way out of this, and it is to seek the stars, and I do not mean just with a few astronauts. No, indeed, space must become our home.
This is not an impossible vision. But if we abandon manned space or scale it back yet again, it may become so. It will not only break the hearts of the young, it will imperil, on the longer view, this entire species.
To find our way into the future, we must find our way into space. I have seen a little ship of the visitors speed through the air, the ball bearings of its engine just ticking as rotation slower than the hands of a clock took it a hundred miles. And I know that these engines can generate a billion RPM and more.
This is possible. I have seen it. We can do it. And the stars are not all that far away. If science had taken UFOs seriously fifty years ago, we would already understand, already be on our way. Instead, we have left ungathered the precious treasury of knowledge that organized observation by our best scientists could bring. UFOs are real. They work. We can find out what they are and how they work, and make in the image of their possibilities, our own very real ships to sail the stars.
But WE have to do it. Nothing can be given, not if we are to retain any value in ourselves.
Knowing that we must be strong, the visitors have done nothing to make it easy for us, and everything to help us help ourselves.
We are like a man who refuses to open his eyes to a beautiful garden. Even though he can smell the roses--or perhaps because he can--he says that they aren't there. It's hard to face what is dark in our hearts, but harder still to face what is great. It is much, much harder to face one's excellence than it is to indulge one's weakness.
And this is what makes the astronauts such a beacon for the human spirit: they are living embodiments of our best courage, to face how hard it is--and how wonderful--to be excellent.
Even though most of the astronauts suffer from the same blindness about the visitors that afflicts the rest of this mad, mad world, they nevertheless carry in their hearts the pearl of human promise, and we know it, and that is why we mourn them so, and why the children of the world are sad.
These seven who went to the edge carried with them our whole human destiny, and every single heart that beats knows that.
They carried it in an old, worn-out spacecraft full of defects, but they took the torch nevertheless. They did it as an example, for the same reason that all astronauts do it, because their spirits know that we must, all of us, take that torch, or slip away into the ancient oblivion of the earth.
Over the billions of years of its existence, this planet has seen immeasurable masses of striving life. Everything dies and returns to ooze, the grand beasts and the makers of the temples, the great and the small.
But now, here, in this era, there is a new beast with a new mind, that can look upon itself and on the world around, and see that survival into a new destiny is possible.
All it takes is the courage to go to the edge, in your mind, in your heart, or along with the riders on the flame, into the sky.
Colonel Phillip Corso, of sacred memory, told me that he had personally asked one of the visitors what was on offer for us. The answer was critical to our survival. In fact, these eight words contain nothing less than the key to human destiny. He was told that what is on offer from them to us is "a new world, if you can take it."
The seven stars now forever falling all said yes, we will take it. The mean, blind bean counters of our failed congress, whose years of budget-blindness left them with nothing to soar in but junk, took the future from their grasp.
It is now our charge to transcend the cruel mathematics of their destruction, and accept the gift of strength that their sacrifice has granted us.
A new world is on offer, waiting all around. It is the future of man to dare space and win, to make the ships of magic that will cause us to say of the space shuttle: 'how brave they were, to try it in that terrible thing.'
But there are chains, heavy chains, lying across the backs of our children. As we are now, we are a dying animal. But I say no. The chains are nothing but straw and evil dreams. Our children can rise against the dreary, visionless men whose rule curses us now, and weave the wings of angels.
Columbia died. Columbia should not have been sent to the edge of the possible, that old thing. And containing a cargo of our most precious treasures, the people of vision and brilliance, never.
They knew that they rode on a tired old horse, but they went anyway, because that is what we have given our heros to ride: a tired old horse.
We need a new vision of ourselves, to learn to see ourselves not through the defeated eyes of the past, but as the visitors see us--filled with promise, the glorious achievement of five billion years of earthly striving. After all this time, the old lady has made a child.
Will we cling in her womb until she dies, and us with her, or will we dare the sky and be born?
Seven new stars are calling us. Listen, please, that the children of the children may be glad.
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