Monday, May 01, 2006

Heroes and role models

During an episode of the current US Survivor series an aged astronaut revealed his secret identity to his island buddies. It was a touching moment of pride and respect. The younger men revered the space man and for a moment it seemed their resulting blokey-bond was infallible.

Jeremy and I watched with a certain degree of disinterest. I wondered aloud why meeting an astronaut creates such an occasion in this day and age. Yeah, CNN (28 April, 2006) still reports shuttle launches, and they may or may not be televised on obscure American cable networks, but they go largely unnoticed. The population just isn’t that interested any more.

Jeremy remarked that space travel is about to become openly available to the general public, or at least those with sufficient funds. Virgin Galactic is on the verge of introducing space travel with a space port being built in New Mexico and the first flights set to take place in 2008.

As more people can fly through the outer atmosphere, the importance and nobility of astronauts will fade to nothing. Is this sad? Well, that probably depends on a few factors. Did you dream of bouncing around the surface of the moon while playing with your space Lego set and Star Wars figurines when you were a child? Is your dear-ol’ Grandpoppy a decorated astro-god? Did you narrowly miss out on a chance to fly into space and you’ve been desperately hoping another chance will come to set your name in the history of space travel?

If you answered “no” to these questions, there’s a good chance that it makes not a scrap of difference to your life that the future of astronauts is not so rosy. It’s not that they’ll cease to exist. As long as there are new regions of space to explore (and there’s infinite potential for that) astronauts will have a job. In fact, the more space travel expands the more jobs will be available for astronauts, so it’s good news for those of you who are still dreaming.

However, the old Dan-the-astronauts of the world won’t be able to drum up the respect they still, for some reason, get. It won’t be long before “I’m an astronaut” results in the same response as “I’m a freelance web-designer.” Isn’t everyone?


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