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The historical imperitive

Randall Roebuck

December 12, 2012

What sparked my passion for space? Plastic toy spacemen, about 2 1/2 inches high, that I probably received for my birthday or Christmas in 2nd or 3rd grade (I don't really remember clearly, partly because my birthday is only a week before Christmas, and partly because that was half a century ago). Two other presents I received around the same time were a child's microscope and a small telescope; I still recall the evening when I was 8 or 9 that I spent going from looking at pond water through my microscope in my room to looking at the moon and the Milky Way in my telescope outside. At one point, I looked up at the sky without the telescope and said to the stars "I'm coming." Then, as I grew older, there were Heinlein, Asimov, Silverberg, Clarke and a host of other writers ... including one who wrote a novella entitled "Mission to the Heart Stars" which was serialized in Boys Life magazine. And I had a fascination for science, nurtured by a collection of science books for grade-schoolers (many of which I still have, outdated though they may be) entitled the "All About" books, including "All About the Stars" and "All About the Planets". I read those right about the time of Sputnik and John Glenn's first orbit in the Mercury capsule. A few years later, along came Gene Roddenberry and one of the first science fiction series on TV to have a continuous cast and storyline (I don't really need to tell anybody its name, do I?). But then, sometime in there, something else happened in my mind, caused in part by two other books in the "All About" series: "All About Archaeology" and "All About Famous Scientific Expeditions", introducing to me another thing which captured my attention, and imagination - my personal discovery of ancient Greek history and Greek mythology. Furthermore, I also began to learn about the Aztecs, Christopher Columbus, the Vikings (and Norse mythology), American colonial history, and, most especially, American frontier history. Befitting one who became fascinated by the mythology of ancient Greece, I found myself identifying with Janus, the two-faced god (after whom the first month of the year was named in our still-current calendar) - "two-faced" not in the contemporary sense of somebody who appears good, but is secretly evil, but in the older sense of one who looks both to the past and to the future. Space exploration, especially back in the 1950s & 60s, was mostly a matter of our future, while my growing interest in history obviously had to do with the past, right? Yet I've realized over the course of my lifetime that the two interests are not imcompatible, that they are, in fact, (as it is with Janus) two parts of the same whole. The urge and drive to explore beyond the confines of our planet isn't really something new to human culture, something that just began in the mid-20th century; it's rooted in our common heritage, and dates back to before the dawn of recorded history. There has been a mixture of motives in the quest for exploration and discovery, from the "noble" thirst for knowledge and understanding, to the "less than noble" motivations of seeking 'glory' and commercial wealth, yet underlying it all is a simple restlessness combined with curiosity, which has resulted in the historical imperitive to keep exploring.

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