While other little boys were fantasizing about hitting home runs or making a touchdown, I was dreaming about the pock-marked surface of the moon and thinking about escape velocity. I was ten years old and I knew that to blast free of earth's gravity, the rocket I was riding would have to roar skyward at an incredible seven miles per second. Escape velocity. I loved those magical words and all they conjured: Space travel. Living on Mars. Landing on the moon.
I still think about escape velocity, but now escape means snorkeling in the crystalline waters of the Caribbean. Or heck, just escaping from the office for a long weekend. Ironic, isn't it, that now, as the possibility of civilian space travel looms over me like a shimmering Saturn rocket, I no longer want anybody to fly me to the moon. Not even on gossamer wing. I like traveling on earth as a passenger, but I have no desire to be payload.
Why should I spend upwards of 50 thousand dollars to take a two-hour sub-orbital flight 62 miles above the earth's surface? Just to say I'd been there, done that? Fifty thousand bucks would buy me a lot of tangible pleasures in Paris, London or Hong Kong.
Yes, the experience would be extraordinary. Seeing the earth as a blue ball suspended in the stygian vastness of space has a profound effect on people. You realize that there are no borders, no national boundaries, that the fragile earth itself is your only home. But I already know that, at least intellectually and spiritually.
Do I really want to be a galactic tourist in an orbiting bed and breakfast? With the only toilet and shower 250 miles away? Will I really enjoy sucking on crème brulee squeezed out of a toothpaste tube, sleeping Velcroed to the wall, and tumbling end-over-nauseating-end in zero gravity? And who will my traveling companions be on this orbiting love boat? What if I'm trapped hundreds of miles above the earth with Adam Sandler? Or Kathie Lee Gifford and Cody in his little space suit? Do these claustrophobic space modules come with escape pods?
Call me a jaded tourist or an earth-bound curmudgeon, but I'm going to keep my travels terrestrial. I still believe, as Ray Bradbury does, that our destiny lies in the stars and that we have an obligation to explore the universe. Yet if I must go gentle into that starry, starry night, it's not going to be by spacecraft.
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