“You’re going to be in Houston, you have to go to the Space Center.” This was a refrain as I prepared to take a group of youth to Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering. And I thought, sure, whatever, that’ll be a fun thing to do.
I’ve never really been a “space guy.” Astronauts are cool and all but it wasn’t on my list of “things I want to be when I grew up.” I like a good space thriller as much as anyone (really liked “The Martian” and “Hidden Figures”) but that’s about it. I’ve rarely looked through a telescope, never made a styrofoam model of the planets, and other than a model of the space shuttle I built one in my model phase I haven’t done much with space. I don’t know much about the space program or planets or stars. Hell, I struggle mightily with science and math.
So the day came for the Space Center and I thought, well, cool, I guess. This’ll be a fun way to spend an afternoon. At least it’ll be air conditioned. We went inside and ate some lunch then decided to take the tram tour to see the shuttles and the Apollo Mission Control room. As we started the tour I found myself fascinated by the stories I was hearing. We saw the massive shuttles and went inside the mission control waiting room where anxious families had sat watching for news of their loved ones.
Throughout the tour and the museum itself I heard several quotes that basically boiled down to this: “Space matters because it gives us a reason to dream.”
I was struck by that because, on the surface, space exploration can seem kind of silly at best or at worst a massive waste of resources. Time, tremendous expense, years of training all go into making it possible. And for what? Sure we’ve gotten some new inventions out it and learned some things. And there’s the hope that we’ll discover other hospitable planets for when we’ve trashed this one, but overall it’s a lot for something that can feel rather frivolous. (Especially to someone who isn’t science-y and math-y.)
But this sense that we do this because it gives us space and permission to dream, to explore, to look outside of ourselves? That I can get behind. Even when it seems frivolous. Because art can seem that way sometimes. Hell, theology can seem that way sometimes.
And in these times when there are so many seriously pressing issues, when things seem dire and hopeless, when things seem insurmountable, maybe we need that dream of space. That hope of something beyond us. That permission to dream and reach and try. Because maybe that dreaming will help us to expand our current perceptions of what’s possible and will lead us toward new solutions to the problems we’re facing. Or maybe that space will simply provoke joy and wonder in us and that joy and wonder will be the seed of hope in the midst of despair.
I left the museum with my NASA keychain and hoodie sold on the idea that space matters.
Mostly because I still need a reason to dream, and I think we could use a little wonder.