We are going to be hit by a massive chunk of interplanetary crap larger than Skiable or even Mir... and the SOB, predictably, is going to fail utterly to burn up in our thick atmosphere.
Earth's atmosphere is 50 miles thick! Nice! Until you hit an interplanetary body moving into us at a lateral velocity of over 100 miles per SECOND. That gives us, what, 0.5 of a second? You HP-calculator studs can do the math better than me... but I bet we don't disagree by much.
SLAM BAM POW you're no better than the brototheria or mastodons or smilodons which DIED outside Meteor Crater just 10K years ago.
Or the velociraptors. Or the trilobites.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens: EXTINCT. Dead, gone, wiped out forever, a footnote to the roaches 70 million years later, who appreciate us only because our plumbing slime gave their ancestors sustenance for so many decades before the Great Mammallian Die-off.
This is a game of Cosmic Roulette, and there is not one empty chamber; there are at least three filled cylinders. 44s at YOUR head, mon.
BANG you're dead pow devastation crossing everything we know as civilization and perhaps some triggerhappy nuclear capable country hitting the Big Red a half-second after it's too late for any of us -- ANY OF US -- to stop the missiles flying... "Oh -- it was a comet? An asteroid? Ooooops!"
they lift over the dust shroud -- the funeral garment -- which wraps our planet --
arc beautiful in calculus, perfect and faultless in math curves --
plunge in --
impact, more dust, let's make the nuclear winter that much colder, that much longer.
Occasional brief sunrise as they airburst: A dawn no sane man would meet.
Doctor Strangelove, anyone?
Why leave the planet? Why explore space? Why move to other worlds and obey our deepsea longing which has always taken us from familiar shores into the depths of the unknown? Even Jonah knew the answer to this question, though he didn't like it. Why move on? Why spread out? Why explore -- penetrate -- probe -- know what will kill us for no reason, and how to protect us against it?
-- the bone is thrown, becomes a satellite in near-Earth orbit --
-- still the monolith: Extraterrestrials? No: Us trying that much harder
-- the stone is us -- the dark stone is us undiscovered --
It is not conquering we seek in the name of a nation a la Cortez or Columbus. We wish to scatter seed in the name of a PLANET. This is Mars, this is what we call it., and we leave our progeny to remember its name even after Earth has died, a home lost to us but through stories. We take root and forget as we grow.
(Echoes: Sails in space, against stars, whales in symphony, Ursa Major bright and cuplike overhead, always knowing the way home, wheeling cold distant familiar canvas flaps ivory-slate in velvet diamond onyx ... push out? Why not? It's what we've always done; it is what we are)
More prosaically, Kermit the Frog:
Have you been half-asleep
and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound
that calls to young sailors?
The voice might be one and the
This is what we DO. This is what we ARE. We push out and beyond. We try. We excel. We succeed. Not for a forgotten skin color, lost in the mix of human genetics. Not for our grandchildren, forgotten on some continent we know nothing of. Instead:
For our great-great grandchildren, cold and alone on some planet we haven't even seen or conceived, trying to remember why they're there in the first place. Distant moons hurtling airless over their heads as they shelter in a dome we -- our technology, today -- built. Stars in asterisms and constellations we cannot conceive because we do not have the parallax of distance to distort them.
We have a thick and comfortable azure sky to make us safe. They will have nothing but their thin suits and an equally thin layer of air, breath, warmth, life. One rend in their suits and it's all over for them. But my seed and yours. Can you sing to them, your grandfathers and great-grandfathers, those reading these words now? Can you comfort them in the cold death with songs of life and love?
Our great-great grandchildren.
They're there for us, for all of us. They will be. They could be.
Why explore space? Comet impacts? Possible asteroid catastrophes? No.
Just to let the song carry to those distant progeny. We sing to our great-great grandchildren. And to the stars.
And far, far beyond.
THIS is why we try. Yes?
A million years from now. Some silicon-based organism. It (there is no gender where it comes from) walks across the sands, eating as it goes.
A song it knows; a song from home.
Feature Columnist Extraordinaire