As a teenager, when my teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always told them I wanted to write for the New Yorker. Now that I've finally hit adulthood, I have a different answer to that question: I want to do space stuff, because space is fucking great.
This is not a particularly novel or mind-blowing opinion. Many people think or have thought space is great, including astronauts, my father, people who are stoned, NASA, and Albert Einstein. Humans have been fascinated and perplexed by space for thousands of years, and who could blame them? If you had to choose between looking up at the vast, starry sky or watching your dumb Neanderthal friends make fire and hit each other with rocks, wouldn't you choose space? Of course you would, because space is great.
As a self-absorbed, neurotic, and overly practical person, I often get bogged down in the boring and minute problems of my life. While therapy and illicit substances are often good for alleviating this anxiety, thinking about space is the best form of treatment. Space reminds me that I exist within an enormous, ever-expanding mess of stuff -- planets, black holes, trash, matter, spawning stars, dying stars. Space lets me shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, none of this really matters, because we're all just hurtling through a faceless giant's crystal ball at 107,826km an hour, and anyway, the Sun is going to eat Earth in a few billion years, and Christ, there is so much space out there." Space gives me perspective.
The great thing about space, though, is that it also leaves plenty of room for the opposite train of thought. Space obliterates any and all meaning in our lives with its vastness, but that same vastness also allows us to believe our tiny planet and even tinier bodies mean something, because they're all we've got out there. Why does space do this? Why does space allow for two diametrically opposed perspectives?
Because space is great.
For some people, space is overwhelming, and thus terrible. "It's pretty fucking simple," a good friend once told me. "I hate space. I am terrified of space and we shouldn't be there." I love this friend dearly, but she is wrong, and this is a bad opinion. People often fear space because it represents the unknown -- it reminds us, mercilessly and absolutely, that we don't know shit, really.
Do we know if aliens exist? Nope. Do we know what the universe is made of? Not really. Do we know what's up with all those black holes? Nah. Do we know if other universes exist? No. (I will admit that that last unknown makes me viscerally and existentially uncomfortable.)
Just in case you're not yet convinced of space's greatness, here are several other reasons space is great:
- It paved the way for Moon landing conspiracy theorists, who are actually sort of delightful, as far as conspiracy theorists go.
- There's a lot of cool shit floating around out there.
- It gave us Star Wars.
- According to family lore, world famous astronomer Carl Sagan once embarrassed my father on television by telling him his question was stupid. Without space, this encounter never would have happened, depriving my sister and me of plentiful opportunities over the years to make fun of our father. (My father asked Carl how high the Martian atmosphere was, a question he still insists wasn't dumb.)
- It's the best way for people to remember they're small and insignificant.
- Space porn.
- Astronaut ice cream. (Actually, I've never tried it, so I don't know if it's good, but astronauts deserve delicious ice cream, so I hope it is.)
- ISS, not to be confused with ISIS.
- Aurora Borealis.
- One of the rovers drew a dick on Mars once.
One of my favourite places to visit is the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York. The last time I was there, as I sat back in my seat, letting Neil deGrasse Tyson's dulcet tones wash over me, I was momentarily paralysed by how obscenely large the universe is. (I was also high at the time.) But you know what? I immediately got over it, because space is great.