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Shooting for the Stars - A Down-to-Earth Lesson from Space Exploration

by Prof. Velvl Greene

  

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The expansion of our knowledge of space is broadening our horizons. The possibility of satellite probes now goes beyond the planets, as we set our sights on inter-stellar exploration.

Parallels can be drawn between the problems facing space explorers in the future, to our current situation here on planet earth.

Let us begin with a hypothetical manned voyage to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Such a long voyage presents us with major engineering, biological and sociological challenges.

Since this star is 4.3 light years away, a space ship travelling at 1,000 miles per second would require more than 800 years to get there, and another 800 years to return.

Obviously, the original crew could not survive the mission's long duration. We would therefore have to "man" the capsule with men and women, who would have children, who, in turn, would have children, and so forth, for 1,600 years.

Finally, after many generations, the remote progeny of the original crew would complete the mission started by their ancient ancestors. This interstellar space ship would have to be completely self-sustaining. No material could be wasted. Every generation would be responsible for the next generation, and to maintain the capsule environment conducive to life. All basic necessities would have to be reused and regenerated: the water, the food, the oxygen, and so forth.

How can we convey to future generations the basic data about their origins, where they are going, how to get there and how to get back?
Indeed, NASA scientists are presently working on how to convert waste into reusable raw material; how to regenerate oxygen from carbon dioxide, etc. Now back to earth: Planet Earth is actually a five-billion-man round sphere hurtling through the void. We must be self supporting and self-contained, and cannot waste any of our precious resources.

But the engineering and technical problems are only one part of the problem. In the proposed space ship, all crew members would have to learn to cooperate with each other, generation after generation. Similarly, people on earth must learn to live with each other. We have too many fingers playing around with emergency "destruct" buttons. We must realize that we are all in the same spaceship.

The question then arises: Would the fiftieth generation, after a thousand years, still share the goals and aspirations of their pilgrim fathers who set out from earth so long ago? How can we convey to future generations the basic data about their origins, where they are going, how to get there and how to get back?

To us Jews, this story is no flight of the imagination. Three thousand years ago, our mission was launched at Mount Sinai with specific instructions. For over a hundred generations our guidance systems were intact. We knew exactly where we came from, where we were going, why we were travelling, what we are supposed to do, and how to get back. And we faithfully transmitted our log-book, the Torah, from generation to generation.

Our unique log-book met the only real criterion of the empirical scientist. It worked. Our Jewish presence today demonstrates that it worked. But the future of our mission has become endangered. A new generation has dismissed the original log book as old-fashioned, too restraining, too complicated and irrelevant to "modern times."

Our mission might go awry, because our children and grandchildren are untutored in the theory and practice of guidance and control. They lost their "fix" on the celestial reference points. Everyone knows that something is wrong, but they cannot identify the malfunction.

Fortunately, some navigators have preserved the authentic log-book and know the original Trajectory. They are still in communication with our origins, and persevere in their efforts to get us back on course.

This crucial sense of mission is important to ourselves and to our children. Torah is the only guide for the preceding generations, for our present generation, and for those who will travel after us.

Republished with permission from jewish-holiday.com


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