The Technology of Fire

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   Posted by: BJ Johnson in philosophy, writing
The Technology of Fire
The United States Space Program and its Place in History?
Originally published on my space art website in 1995. Still holds true today; now more than ever.

Each time I observe or participate in a spacecraft launch I wonder at all that we have been able to do with The Technology of Fire.

This earth is born from the cauldron of the stars.
All of the elements that are in it
    were formed in those intense fires.
We have a fire inside that burns ever so gently
    in comparison with the stars.
It is the same fire, but it burns in a very special way.
We are born from this earth.
We rise up out of it and walk around,
    soon to return to its womb.
All of the elements within us are scattered
  throughout the Universe.
We are the Universe come to contemplate itself.

Early in our development we acquired the simple but precious technology of fire. It kept us warm and safe. It also caused great damage if we handled it improperly, for we had no means of control over it.
    In developing that control, we learned other things that we could do with it, aside from keeping warm without burning our house down to the ground. And the technology became more precious.
    In the night we could soon see campfires dotted across the countryside that told us of the existence of others that have developed the technology of fire. In that time we would use rocks that we found on the ground. As weapons, we would throw them to hunt for food or in defense of ourselves; as tools, we would use them to dig or pound them together to make something useful; as building blocks, to house and protect—even for games.

With the grace of God, we have progressed to the point of being able to dig in that same ground from which we have sprung. Take rocks and heat them and pound them into wondrous extensions of ourselves that were unimaginable by our ancestors. Then, using that precious technology once again, throw those rocks off this planet so fast that they will never return, not even to the Sun. These rocks go where we cannot, as yet, travel. They do things that we cannot do. See things beyond our sight. As they go on their journey they tell us of our place in the Universe and chart our course out into it.

Soon, we will be able to ride that same fire to visit the campfires that we see in the night. Unimaginable places that, at one time, existed only in the mind of God.
    We are explorers by nature. It is our charge to learn all that we can learn, see all that we can see. It is impossible to know what is over the next horizon. What discoveries await us. Answers to questions long unanswered. And new questions posed which may have no answers.

We stand at a crucial turning point in our journey. Our advances, up to this point, have largely been fueled by fear. The largest advances in technology came as a result of war. Historically, exploration has been based on economic gain - the chance of riches on the distant shore. If we, now in peacetime and with no perceived pot of gold in the heavens, turn our backs on inquiry and knowledge, for the sake of themselves, surely we are headed for the New Dark Ages. An age from which we may never return.

The Vikings roamed the open ocean
    —they drifted into obscurity.
The Romans once ruled the seas
    —they lost their high position.
The Portuguese held the oceans in the palm of their hand
    —it slipped through their fingers. The Spanish,
  the English,
      the Dutch,
          the French....

We now hold the keys to the New Ocean that lies waiting. Keys that we fought long and hard to attain. Are we to follow our predecessors into the backwaters of history and shirk the responsibility that rests in our hands? Are we only to shrink away from the brink of great discovery because it seemingly cannot be justified as "immediately cost-effective"? What is "cost-effective" when you don't know what you are going to find? What price will we have to pay in the New Dark Ages?

And to whom will we have to pay it?
Investment in a future that we cannot see is something that we, as Americans, have always done. We're not doing it so much anymore. We're in danger of not doing it ever again.

The Fire still burns. Though it's only a glimmer, it still burns.

Beings, Human,
born of Mother Earth,
have set sail
in fragile craft
far above the oceans
of our ancestors.
Adrift in the solar wind,
buffeted by ion storms,
pounded by waves
of cosmic and gamma rays,
we plumb the
unfathomable depths.
As has always been,
we navigate by the stars.
Only now...
they are our destination,
and understanding;
our priceless treasure.
To go and learn is reason enough . . .

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