Sputnik and the space age it launched had one other curious, wholly unexpected effect. Before Sputnik, while still dreaming about outer space in science fiction, we always assumed that one step would create the hunger for the next -- ever outward from Earth orbit to the moon to Mars and beyond.
Not so. It took only 12 years to go from Sputnik to the moon, on which we jumped about for a brief interlude and then, amazingly, abandoned.
There are technological, budgetary and political reasons to explain this. But the most profound is psychological. It's cold out there. "In the Shadow of the Moon" is a magnificent new documentary of the remembrances of some of those very few human beings who have actually gone to the moon. They talk, as you'd expect, about the wonder and beauty and grandeur of the place. But some also recall the coldness of that desolation. One astronaut tells how on the moon's surface he was seized with the realization that he and his crewmate were utterly alone (BEG ITAL)on an entire world(END ITAL).
On Earth, you can be wandering a forbidding desert but always with the hope that there might be something human over the horizon. On the moon there is nothing but dust and rock, forever. And then -- just about all the astronauts talk about this -- you look up and see this beautiful blue marble, warm and fragile, hanging in the black lunar sky. And you long for home.
The astronauts brought back that image in the famous photo, "Earthrise" -- and, with it, that feeling of longing. That iconic image did not just help spur the environmental movement. With surpassing irony, it created at the very dawn of the space age a longing not for space, but for home.
This is perhaps to be expected for a 200,000-year-old race of beings leaving its crib for the first time. We will, however, outgrow that fear. It was 115 years from Columbus to the Jamestown colony. It will take about that same span of time for a new generation -- ours is too bound to Earth -- to go out and not look back.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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