Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Second Star from the Right

On June 21, 2004, Burt Rutan is going to attempt to put the privately-funded SpaceShipOne into sub-orbit. If he succeeds, individuals using only commercial resources -- in principle anyone-- will have achieved what the UK, France and Germany or Japan have not attained as nations. The fact that the prize will likely be won by an American company is incidental. Teams from the UK, Canada, Argentina, Israel  and other countries are competing for the X-Prize and may win it yet. Thousands, including Dale Amon of Samizdata, are heading for the Mojave Airport to watch SpaceShipOne make its attempt. Atmospherically the event recalls nothing so much as Lindbergh's attempt to solo the Atlantic, as this poster perceptively suggests.

In an age when bravery itself is suspect and achievement considered a kind of oppression; when every new technology is hedged around with anticipatory restrictions it is wonderful to know that some men at least would like nothing better than to rise on a column of fire toward the beckoning stars. For every successful flight of this nature slips not only the "surly bonds of earth" but also breaks hidebound modes of thinking. It departs not just from a place but from a time. It takes us not from where we ought to be, but to where we belong.