Occasional insomnia is a nemesis I’d rather not have to deal with. But once in a while it yields worthwhile fruits. Had I not been suddenly awake for no good reason and restlessly browsing my incoming Twitter timeline a couple of nights ago, I have to wonder whether I’d ever have stumbled upon this fantastic, extraordinary series by Tim Urban at “Wait But Why”, courtesy of @spacecom.
Start with Part 1: The Story of Humans and Space — which, if you have any inkling of wonder in you, will pull you in like a sci-fi tractor beam, the way it did me. It’s preceded in the series by a two-part, in-depth background about SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who is rightly cited as a major driving force in the quest to bring space travel costs down and pave the way to human colonization of other planets. I’ve spoken of the urgent need for a new frontier — for a way out to another place where humanity’s pioneer spirit can again thrive. This series is about exactly what it will take for us to achieve a future in space — as an even more fundamental matter of long-term survival as a species.
Of the psychological difference between manned and unmanned space exploration, Tim writes:
The human spirit of discovery is alive and well, having thrived in space in the years since Apollo.
But as fascinated as we are by discovery—as much as we yearn to know all the secrets hidden in the pages of Where Are We?—when it comes to filling us with true excitement and inspiration and getting our adrenaline pumping, discovery doesn’t hold a candle to adventure. Probes and telescopes may fill us with wonder and light up our curiosity, but nothing gets us in our animal core like watching our species go where no man has gone before.And in that arena, the last four decades have left us feeling empty.
There’s a familiar bit of disappointment or despair in that. But Tim isn’t remotely convinced that our recent spacefaring lull is the end of the human story in space. Much to the contrary:
I’ve spent the last couple months reading, talking, and thinking almost non-stop about what the coming chapters of this story will look like—and my assumptions about the future have now changed dramatically.
I think we’re all in for a big surprise.
By all means, read the whole, magnificent series. It’s well worth it.