Monday, March 1, 2010

Citius, Altius, Fortius

After last night's closing ceremonies, all I can say is wow. What a finish and what a show. Kudos especially to our Canadian athletes who really finished strongly in the last couple of days with a record haul of medals. You had us worried there for a while! All congradulations aside, however, what I'd like to talk about here in this space today are some of the similarities and parallels between an endeavour like the olympic games and space flight.

Some of these are obvious. When you ask a kid what they'd like to be wheb they grow up, chances are that athlete and astronaut would both appear high on the list of most popular aspirations. As well, they both create great spectacle and highlight incredible human stories. No matter which one you are talking about, a veritable army of dedicated people, toiling for years, are necessary to pull the whole thing off.

Also, like the olympics, spaceflight will yield the highest returns if it is not the sole province of a single nation, or even a small few. It needs to be a truly international experience. Greater and greater collaboration across borders is occurring, but the flag on your passport still matters enormously. This is perhaps one of the greatest promises of commercial spaceflight, which may eventually open up this frontier to people from all nations.

So, could there be an echo to Jacques Rogge's traditional line from last night "I call upon the youth of the world to gather in four years..." for our endeavour?

While you ponder that, think about this: on a deeper level, both the Olympics and Spaceflight are expressions of our civic pride and are funded largely through the public purse. As such, both are run at what is essentially a loss. Today VANOC will reveal its balance sheet, and it's not expected to be good. The City of Vancouver has certainly paid a price for the honour of hosting the games. Many residents fought against the bid and boycotted the celebrations that took place. Likewise, the expenditure on NASA sometimes stirs a similar response. Kritoph Klover perhaps put it best in his song "Others Standing by" from the album "To Touch the Stars:"

'Why would you go there?' they say
'There's nothing up there anyways
We could use the money here
Don't you know that life's to dear?'

Neither hosting the winter games nor exploring are cheap endeavours. The obvious monetary returns in terms of new technologies (memory foam, anyone?) and sporting facilities can be hard to quantify exactly, and never cover the cost. So why do we bother with either?

I think it comes down to our nature as human beings. We all aspire to be more then we are. Life is not just the search for a just and comfortable existence. We need to believe in our ability, as a species to grow beyond what we are. To test the limits of what we can do. It's a big part of what made us the creatures we are today, and it is also key to our long term survival. That's worth a few dollars every four years. So, as the olympic motto says: Faster, Higher, Stronger! Or as Klover answers:

'We'll send the best from Earth
To find out what it's worth.'

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