O Atlantis, My Atlantis!

Atlantis landed, marking the end of Space Shuttle program.

I kept gazing at the pictures on Boston.com, tears almost filling my eyes. I know this is something that would make me cry. I feel a mist of melancholy inside, and I have always wondered where this feeling has come from.

First, it may have come from my simple desire to push the frontier of human exploration. I feel rather sad when I read a piece on The Economist, which ends with such a note:

“The future, then, looks bounded by that new outer limit of planet Earth, the geostationary orbit. Within it, the buzz of activity will continue to grow and fill the vacuum. This part of space will be tamed by humanity, as the species has tamed so many wildernesses in the past. Outside it, though, the vacuum will remain empty.”

Is this statement true? Yes and no. The outer space is anything but empty. Yet to the scope of human eyesight, it is indeed empty. Think of the case of you looking into an empty box – it is empty simply because you cannot see the transparent air within it. The outer space is almost empty because we see too little of what it contains. Sad, but true.

Second, to me, there is no place that is more romantic than the space. To think of space is to think of the unknown, undefined, and unspoken-of particles and creatures. This feeling is far more profound than adoring the earthly nature. The rhythm of space never fails to fill me up with wonders and romances.

Finally, it must have come from my ultimate belief that the TRUTH is never on Earth, or at least, not on Earth alone. If I take philosophy as a journey towards the truth, then there is no doubt to me that human philosophy knows almost nothing about the truth, as we know almost nothing about the universe. All we have are hypothesizes, and we do not even have enough tools, either technically or cognitively, to envision the slightest clue of the truth. Upon this issue, I am pessimistic as always, but in a positive way.

If I had failed to get into my first college choice, I would have gone to the second choice that I filled out in my application form: Space Studies. I have no idea what that counterfactual would mean to me – life is too short and limited, so that one only sees the contour of his/her own lifetime, within his/her own cognition and projection.

This reminds me again of the fact that be it “one small step for a man” or “one giant leap for mankind”, any step taken by us mankind will never be able to witness its future legacy. Aristotle never lived long enough to see the physics and metaphysics of today, and Hadrian never lived long enough to see the construction of theaters and drainage systems today. Future stands on the wreck of past. So if one day, our exploration of the space has gone extensively beyond the frontier of today’s, there is nothing left for me to do but to echo the lines of Walt Whitman:

The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
                      —-Walt Whitman, O Captain My Captian
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