To the frontier and beyond

Last month, James Cameron (yes, the same man who directed “Avatar” and “Titanic”) reached the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest part of any ocean on Earth. Under almost seven miles of water, his ship, the Deepsea Challenger, had to withstand arguably the most inhospitable conditions on Earth, with pressure equivalent to almost 264 times that on Earth’s surface. Cameron is but a single man in a long line of explorers dating to the dawn of humanity. Such desire to seek out the unknown, even in the most hostile environments, and to understand whatever we find is as innately human as breathing. It inspired people to sail oceans, to cross deserts, to climb mountains and to journey to the ends of the map and beyond.

In this day and age, there are no more blank spots on that map. There are very few places on this planet that have not at the very least been observed. Yet our human horizons have not changed. We still find ourselves limited to the Earth, a small “Pale Blue Dot” to quote Carl Sagan. We take baby steps beyond, steps we use only to alter our lives here on Earth. I believe we have lost sight of this primal part of ourselves. Content to be, content to remain, we pay lip service to those great explorers of generations past who risked life and limb to find what lay just beyond the horizon or just over that mountain ridge. As our species is poised to take the most important, most momentous step in our history—to move beyond Earth itself—we fear to take the next step. Hiding behind excuses of funding and expense, we remain confined, for the first time in modern history, not by technology but by choice.

This December will mark the 40th year since the last human set foot on the moon, 40 years since we have reached the furthest point ever reached by man. In those 40 years, we have gone less than one-tenth as far (physically) as we have already traveled. Sure, we have sent unmanned probes, we have observed other star systems and we have seen farther than ever. While this may be fantastic scientifically, it is all for naught unless representatives of our species actually make the journey to such distant, exotic places.

There are many reasons—some economic, some scientific, some otherwise—as to why we should keep exploring, keep seeking new heights and journeying to new frontiers. I, however, believe the most powerful to be those buried deep within our own nature, rooted in a desire to intimately understand the universe in which we live on a level far deeper than that of the intellect. That understanding comes from personal experience, from realizing that humans, just like us, have been there and that they continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. The universe is essentially infinite. It is in our nature to keep pushing.