We are living in an intensely important time period, as a species. It is probably the most important time period in all of human history.
Let me expand on that for a minute: right now, so many important revolutions are occurring – in engineering, technology, politics, biology, democracy and virtually every category of human thought on the planet. Humanity as we know it is changing right before our collective eyes. The reach and power that our minds enjoy has never seen such staggering potential before. Anything we dream is increasingly in the realm of possibility. This is happening as a result of many thousands of years of innovations building on one another and centuries of successful efforts to understand and conquer the world around us. New ideas are infusing old processes, previously crazy ideas are given consideration and this self-enriching ride is accelerating exponentially as time goes on. Our abilities to peer into the nature of the universe is also increasing in step, and such an unprecedented view of the structure of the physical universe allows us untold powers and opportunities. It is as if we are heading toward a world of abundance, as Peter Diamandis indicated not too long ago.
If you sit and think about it for a few minutes, you may start to feel euphoric. It is amazing to be on this ride at this time and this place. However, this process we are undergoing is not without its growing pains. We are radically changing our planet in some not-so-kind ways, which is perhaps a sign that we have more wisdom to attain yet. Also, we don’t really know if this explosion of progress will last any particular span of time. The universe is mighty indifferent to our concerns just as it failed to consider the long-term planning of the dinosaurs. So, this ride…it might not last forever. It can end. Indeed, many civilizations of humans have risen to prominence and then faded away to unequal measures of obscurity, and lost many of the contributions they toiled to create. As our ideas slowly collect together, through trial and error, and enrich the whole of humanity, we would be fools to think this will last forever without careful forethought and long-term planning.
That’s where NASA comes in. Careful forethought and long-term planning is what NASA represents. For the first time in our history, we are aware of the dangers of our own sun, the potentially fatal meeting of heavenly bodies that occasionally resets Earth’s progression of life back millions of years, and the short-sighted outbursts of violence and exploitation we humans periodically engage in. NASA has helped us to realize for the first time that we are not trapped on Earth, that we do not have to be victims of ourselves or an indifferent universe. We can do something. Indeed, we should do something.
But, “what can I do?” you might ask; “I am small. The universe is immense.” As I mentioned above, we aren’t so helpless now. Many of the things we work to do in our lives touch many others in ways we can scarcely imagine. And this affects not just contemporary humans, but humans that will exist in the future, as well. In this way, we are all connected. Know that each of us are caught up in an intense epic. It is a story of such immensity and antiquity that, at times, it is bewildering to grasp. We are part of a human lineage of which each individual is an integrated part. Our roles in this here and now may seem boring, or complacent, or mundane, or insignificant. This is not the case. This is FAR from the case. We belong to a great span of human creatures, and a rich, unique web of life – something that exists nowhere else. We are part of a genetic tradition that has overcome every single obstacle that has ever threatened it and explored realms other organisms still cannot fathom. You are a participant to a reality that has never happened before.
Creatures like you hunted down massive ice age monsters, using intelligence and teamwork to beat the odds. Creatures like you forged the first cities, created the first roads and monumental architecture, wrote the first books, blazed those first trails and laid the groundwork for future human civilization. Creatures like you have created a global, instantaneous computer network. Creatures just like you have walked on the surface of the moon.
Importantly, we contribute to the endeavor of human civilization and the long-term survival of life whether we realize the scope of our involvement or not. Even though Neil Armstrong was the first human to plant a 9 1/2 size boot print on the moon, hundreds of thousands of humans worked to put him there. It was a collective effort. And the same will be said of our effort to establish a permanent presence off of our home world. Returning to the moon, visiting our first asteroid, building cities on Mars…it begins with you, with us working together to enrich future generations of humans and guaranteeing the existence of life in an indifferent universe. It begins with a penny for NASA.