Space, the final frontier
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
It’s a five year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life
And new civilizations
To boldly go where no man has gone before
Captain Kirk’s opening lines of the Star Trek TV series have always enthralled me. For as long as I can remember, I have always been a huge fan of science fiction.
As a single parent, my mother had to juggle two jobs and only came back home at night. So my brother and I were left on our own most of the time. When we came back home after school, we did our chores and homework as instructed. My mother also told us to read books which she will test us on later. Till today, we still don’t know if she actually knew or read the stories in those books or whether she just pulled a fast one knowing we wouldn’t question her about it. In any case, it contributed to my love for books, especially science fiction. Among the books, we had a surprisingly good collection of titles from Isaac Asimov, widely accepted as one of the fathers of modern science fiction.
Mankind has always been intrigued by space. Besides sending bacteria into outer space, the Russians sent the first animal into orbit in 1957, a dog named Laika. Americans used a myriad of monkeys as primate astronauts. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin etched his name in history as being the first human being to travel into space in 1961.
Stanley Kubrick wrote, produced and directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of space travel and pioneering in the use of special effects. I remember watching the movie on VHS. The movie also inspired a then-unknown filmmaker named George Lucas. One year later, in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.
Fast forward to the 2000s, China initiated a successful space mission. In 2014, India became the first nation to succeed in its maiden attempt to Mars by sending a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet.
So many victories for space travel and a little step closer to the unknown.
While we were counting down the days to end our circuit breaker in Singapore, technopreneur Elon Musk launched the first commercial space flight on 31 May. This was the first time astronauts have been sent to space by a private entity, SpaceX, whose mission is to make humanity multi-planetary.
The unique aspect of the SpaceX programme are the reusable rockets which they are building to reduce the cost of space travel. While traditional rockets are designed to burn up on re-entry, SpaceX rockets can withstand re-entry, land and take off again.
SpaceX’s vision is to build the next generation of sustainable spacecraft capable of carrying mankind to the International Space station, Mars and beyond.
Looking outwards and inwards
Man has always had that unquenchable thirst to venture beyond the horizon. After fully exploring our world, we now venture into space – to colonise nearby planets, discover new galaxies and search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
But as we look upwards, we should not forget about our own planet Earth. Maybe we ought to be kinder to Earth than we have been all these years.
From the Saving Gaia movement to Go Green initiatives to teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg, there have been constant calls to save our planet, to limited avail.
Venice’s famous canals, under pressure from the effects over extreme tourism, have started to clear up. Residents in cities like Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Milan and Frankfurt breathe cleaner air. Closer to Singapore, Beijing, Delhi and Bangkok too have reported cleaner air and beautiful skies.
Even celestial bodies have been more visible during this time. A Singaporean photographer managed to capture shots of the Milky Way, Saturn, as well as Jupiter and its moons from his house in Queenstown!
We stayed inside and the environment around us flourished. Elephants in Thailand roamed free, and Nara deer, unmolested by hordes of tourists grazed peacefully among the sakura trees. In Singapore, we saw butterflies and bees fluttering around flourishing wildflowers and watched our otters roaming in our neighbourhoods, albeit with less than happy outcomes.
As we start to return to our post circuit breaker lives in the new normal that Covid-19 has thrust upon us, I want to believe that we have learned not only to take care of ourselves and our loved ones during this period, but also to be mindful of the environment we live in.
I think it’s time we started to reflect and realise how our actions have great impact on those around us, be it fellow humans or nature.
As much I salute the efforts for the search for life beyond our skies, I also truly hope that we can exercise that same drive to be kinder to Earth, the only planet we can truly call home.
Earth, our frontier
Let these be the efforts of the people on Earth
It will be a long mission
To explore new ways to be greener
To seek new norms
And a new kinder civilization
To boldly go where no man has gone before