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From our archives: Fantastic space journeys contemplated

What We Thought: 50 years ago

Published: Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 1:20 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 11:44 a.m. CST
Caption
(NASA)
American astronaut John Glenn wore this spacesuit and helmet when he flew the Friendship 7 mission in 1962 and became the first American to orbit the earth. Fifty years ago, America had ambitious expectations for its fledgling space program.

Note to readers – Sauk Valley Media will share editorials from the past as a regular Monday feature. The following editorial appeared in the Daily Gazette on Dec. 7, 1962.

Next year, according to the schedule, two men will circle the earth in the Gemini capsule. After that, three men will travel to the moon. After that ...

It is not unlikely that before this century is out, large ships with large crews will be making journeys of several years to the nearer planets, and that the 21st century will see astronauts exploring our entire solar system – as close to the sun as tiny Mercury and as far out as remote Pluto, 2.6 billion miles from earth at its nearest.

Two billion miles is hardly even the first step toward the nearest star, which is 13,000 times two billion miles away. Yet men speak of voyaging to the stars, and mere statistics will not dissuade those who finally conquer Pluto and stand on the rim of the sun’s domain contemplating the vast gulf behind.

Still, it is almost unthinkable, even with nuclear engines capable of speeds fantastically greater than today’s rockets, a one-way trip to the nearest star would take many hundreds of years – far beyond the reach of a single lifetime.

Some (and not just science fiction writers) have suggested it might be accomplished by sending a crew of families in a completely self-sufficient spaceship – a miniature earth, but one in which nothing could be wasted.

Generation after generation, the descendants of the original families would live out their lives within the confines of their little world until the new star was reached.

Aside from the engineering complexities of such an undertaking, the sociological problems would be enormous. Would the last descendants remember, or even care, why the voyage was begun in the first place? Could the values carried aboard by their forefathers survive or have any meaning to them?

It is all too fantastic. Or is it?

The fact is that such a voyage is already under way.

This story of a spaceship-community was used by Roger Revelle, science advisor to the secretary of the Interior, to underscore a truth that is becoming increasingly evident.

“What is our earth, then,” asks Revelle, “but a two-billion-man spaceship hurtling through the void? We face exactly the problems that our hypothetical travelers would face.

“This round ball, the earth, on which mankind dwells, is a sphere unsupported in space, isolated and complete in itself. We who are condemned to live on it must be self-supporting and self-contained.

“We must not, and indeed we cannot, waste anything. We must somehow learn to live together, to tolerate one another, or else we cannot survive.”

 

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