this is the new ocean
we watched some of our DVR backlog this morning with brunch. since seeing the first in the series, i have been enthralled with Discovery Channel’s When We Left Earth. i’m not generally a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy, but i tend to get emotional watching these shows.
i think it’s something about the enormity of the challenge, and the grace at which the astronauts accept it. the rewards of success, are to leave a legacy of advancing every aspect of human endeavor. the risks, you might think, would be death alone. but the risk of failure for early NASA missions went far beyond that.
there were no people, in any profession, in any place, who were not touched, inspired, motivated, lifted, by the trials and triumphs of our journey into space.
Michael Collins is interviewed in one segment, about the world-wide tour that the crew of Apollo 11 took after the moon landing:
Instead of saying ‘You Americans did it’, everywhere they said ‘We did it – we, humankind.’ I’d never heard people in different countries use this word ‘we, we, we’ as emphaticallyâ€¦ I thought that was a wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.
Michael Collins, Apollo 11 
the episode i watched today was about the earlier missions, Project Mercury. a quote from President John F. Kennedy really struck me. this was in reference to John Glenn’s first orbital flight in 1962:
We have a long way to go in this space race. But this is the new ocean, and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.
John F. Kennedy 
this is the new ocean. where the explorers who sailed from shores in europe to seek new lands, gazed out at the ocean as the last, vast, limitless unknown challenge for humanityâ€”we came to know it, chart it, analyze it, conquer it. modern forms of travel make the ocean almost trivial.
will we someday ‘conquer’ space? i don’t think so. at least i hope not. whereas the oceans can be quantified in a scale that humans can (at our greatest abstraction) comprehend; space is vast in a way that we may never truly understand.
and i like it that way. when there is always something beyond our reach, when there is forever a goal that is scarcely not attainable, is when we are at our most clever, our most inspired, our most alive. we need to relish what we are doing in this pursuit, as this is where we play out our lives and write our own stories; the future may retell these as the beginning of something wondrous.
-  The Telegraph review of When We Left Earth documentary
-  This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury – available online in its entirety
Interesting. I haven’t seen this particular series, but I have exactly the same reaction to the heroism of those men and women who risk their lives in a pursuit whose benefits aren’t immediately obvious, or even understood by many Americans, yet that mean so much to our national pride and psyche. It’s the same feeling of fullness, pride, amazement, and admiration (and wetness of eye), that I get when I heard the Declaration of Independence read aloud for the first time (just over a week ago on NPR, in fact). I have an audio series on 10 CDs all about the Mercury program, and it’s one of the most enthralling stories I’ve heard, and hits me right in that spot. And it’s all true, without the schlocky dramatization of films like The Right Stuff or Apollo 13.
I’ll definitely have to put When We Left Earth on my Netflix list!
posted on July 14, 2008