As scientists and engineers combine their efforts in the pursuit of ever more performing spacecrafts and other groundbreaking technologies, what used to be called science-fiction is on its way to becoming society’s standards. The vast majority of people vehemently oppose such a claim, maintaining that populating other planets and extending mankind’s reach beyond Earth’s cocoon is downright ridiculous.
Yet, this stance is too evocative of past ones to be taken at face-value. Rewind a few thousand years back in time, in order for me to narrate the strikingly exotic Tanzanian myth for the creation of the universe, which appears as nonsensical to us humans of the 21st century as it was the unquestionable truth for the people of Tanzania at their time.
It all started with a creative force, which provoked the apparition of air, the sky and a gigantic Tree on which ants circulated. Eventually, a branch of the tree was blown away, and the ants started to consume the branch in order to ensure their survival. Once they had consumed the entirety of the branch, the ants had no other choice but to consume their own excrements. After a set period of time, these excrements grew into the Earth, and the planet inflated so much as to entirely envelop the original Tree. Then, from the roots of the Tree were sent wind and water and plants, followed by humans and animals. Soon thereafter, a war opposing humans to animals led to the formation of the moon, stars and sun. Although humans won the war, a sheep managed to kill the word, which was the underlying essence of the universe, and that terrible event resulted in thunder.
Although the above tale might be surprisingly analogous to the creative stories that children depict in their objectively atrocious drawings, or even to the esoteric hallucinations of a 70 years old man who got his hands on illegal substances for the very first time, it was once considered to be the absolute truth of the universe, and infants were born and old men died in a society that deeply believed in this alternative reality.
Fast forward several centuries, back to a relatively closer yet still distant past. Up until the 17th century, everyone from the merchant’s servant to the most brilliant astronomer believed that the Earth was at the center of the universe, with the Sun, planets and stars revolving around it in perfect harmony. Even when faced with repeated and sometimes blatant discrepancies in their collected date as the observations kept getting ever more precise, scientists kept working on a model of the universe with the Earth fixed at its center, no matter how many intricate cycles they had to design for each of the celestial bodies in order for their belief to hold. Again, no educated person in his or her right mind would nowadays defend the above claim. Yet a few centuries ago, truth had a different flavor.
The story of our kind has been cadenced by these revolutions in thought, transcending ever further our perception of reality into a more detailed and accurate scheme. Not only has our conceptual understanding undergone tremendous change, but so has our technical mastery over the Earth’s element. I could go at similar length treating of the evolution from stationary agricultural systems to the Industrial Revolution to airplanes to space shuttles, but the Tanzanian myth was too tempting to ignore.
Long story short, we are constantly discovering new stuff and pushing the boundaries of our kind’s influence. Man has walked on the moon. A robot is currently circulating on Mars. Astronauts are currently out there in the characteristic void of outer space, securely kept alive by a fascinating technology that is undergoing an exponential growth. In a way, these first spatial expeditions led by people and machines alike could be assimilated to the initial success by the Wright brothers to get an airplane to depart and land safely back on Earth. A century later, anyone anywhere can get anywhere else on the planet in less than 24 hours.
Then, refusing to acknowledge the certainty of space travel in the near future, whether it be a hundred years or a few thousand years, is equivalent to insulting the abilities of man to go from a blooming enterprise to a sophisticated technology, just as we did with airplanes. Certainly, there will be a time when space shuttles which are able to depart and land safely on any of the Solar System’s 8 (and maybe 9!) planets, and eventually on any of our good old galaxy’s solid surfaces, will be the absolute truth of a generation.
So far, we had only been able to see the distant universe. A week earlier, against all odds, researchers have heard gravitational waves, which in simple terms correspond to the sounds emitted by two black holes executing a majestic celestial dance one hundred billion light years away (1 followed by eleven zeroes). In other words, we now have ears that supplement our eyes. How long it will take us to put our hands on the surface of distant celestial bodies I couldn’t tell, but the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that someday, it will inevitably happen.