The Dreams We Leave For Those Who Follow

This post is more about writing than you might think.

Yesterday, I watched the launch of STS-135. Maybe you did too.

Before the launch I texted my son to make sure he was watching too. It was just a few minutes before lift-off and he scrambled to make sure everyone in the house was watching.

Later that night, I asked him what he thought about it. He thought it was sad because the program was over. I asked him what he thought about private companies going into space. He said, “I don’t think it’s going to happen.” I asked why, and he replied, “Because there’s no one to advertise to.”

What Ideas Are We Giving To The Next Generation?

This is NASA’s picture of STS-1 lifting off on April 12th, 1981. I remember it clearly. Do you?


What I remember most about STS-1, besides the white fuel tank, is being excited about space and the beginning of a grand voyage of human exploration and adventure. It was an idea that grew from the Apollo program, which itself had inspired an earlier generation. It was a gift of the best sort. The gift of an idea that we could do something even bigger than the last generation. That we could be more as human beings…

And now, with STS-135 zipping around for a final few victory laps around this blue globe of ours, I’m left wondering just what the next generation must think of all this, what they must think of us. What ideas do they see out there in the world today? What dreams have we sown by our own actions? How have we encouraged the next generation to dream bigger than the last generation?

The answer, I think, lies in the clear-headed response of a 12 year-old boy: In space, no one can hear you advertise.

So, What Exactly Have We Done?

I think it’s a fair question.

We’ve solved none of the pressing problems of the past. War is rampant and eternal. The energy crisis is worse than ever. We’ve destroyed much of our sense of community through aggressive polarization, and reduced our sense of humanity to the petty needs of instant gratification. We may have access to all of the knowledge in the world in the palm of our hands, but we no longer have the will to bend the laws of nature to our imaginations.

In short, we seem to have chosen a path of apathy instead of one of adventure. We’ve chosen to become static instead of dynamic. We are squabbling amid the wreckage of a civilization that has not yet died, creating evermore selfish systems in commerce, in politics, and in life.

But I think that all is not so bleak as it appears. If we put our minds to it, we can be more than this one moment in time. We can reclaim our dreams and reinvigorate the spirit of adventure which has defined the best in human achievement throughout history.

The Human Spirit Is Not So Easily Defeated

My younger son and I talked about the shuttle launch too. He was excited about the roar of rockets and the smoke and the flames. He talked like a boy who is seven about the majesty of such an incredible achievement, which is to say there was lots of “wow” and “cool” and whooshing whoops.

His excitement was infectious and I told him about the first shuttle launch. I told him how we watched at school and what it meant to us. We talked about space then and what lies beyond, and then we set about killing zombies because that’s what we do on Friday nights.

So while we can be sad about the closing of this chapter in the space program, we must be ready to write the next. Those who follow us are counting on us to live our dreams. We must supply them with nothing but the very best examples of our imaginations brought to reality through the willpower of the human spirit.

We must fight through the malaise of the moment. We must create. Because it’s not enough to simply shake our heads and walk away… We must repay the deficit dreams we leave for those who follow.

8 thoughts on “The Dreams We Leave For Those Who Follow

  1. Hi Jamie, I agree. I think the most telling thing about today and especially today’s youth is that there is no excitement about the future. I remember the summer between 4th and 5th grades getting the summer version of Weekly Reader and it always included how scientists and farmers and doctors were developing things that we couldn’t even imagine like video telephones, and cars that would hover with onboard guidance systems to not only know which exit to take but also how to avoid other vehicles on the road, crops resistant to drought, and new vaccines. We couldn’t wait for the future to arrive because life was going to be so cool and we’d be adults and could take advantage of all these inventions. It’s almost like society has plateau-ed creatively even though being creative is a big sexy buzz term conversationally. Right now there is more talk about being creative than actual creativity happening; maybe we’ve been indoctrinated with too much fear to risk doing creativity? I don’t know the answer but I concur there’s a problem.

  2. Consider this – in April of 1981 none of us owned computers.

    And those corporations that did have computers, needed a whole floor to contain it.

    Today, there’s more computer power in the palm of your hand than on that corporate floor in 1981. I’m sure it was imaginable to anyone that it would be possible.

    Your sons (like mine) will eventually do the impossible – they just haven’t figured out what that it is.

    Maybe it will be space travel – but probably not. Most likely they’ll discover a new more exciting and more efficient way of killing zombies.

  3. The first gen shuttle craft are gone, and we still have no starships.

    As a 16 year old in 1981 I got to have an interesting perspective on the shuttle launch.

    I had a friend in college at Ohio State, so I watched the launch in the main lounge of his dorm surrounded by college kids.

    There were guys there I had played D&D with along side other geeks, and most surprising to all of us were the jocks standing there in the back, trying to go unnoticed.

    And the silence before the launch was as deep and the eruption after the launch was loud.

    It was an amazing time.

    But, the world was smaller then and the heroes larger.
    Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie were out there in the universe waiting for us to catch up with them. And we wanted to be there. Not to mention those of us that grew up on reruns of Star Trek, dreaming of captaining our own starships.

    For those of you with kids, who are their heroes?
    Do they dream of fighting aliens in far off galaxies, or zombies in a run down urban Earth city?

    Which dream do you think will take them to the stars?

    And I wont get into the Faustian deals we make to keep our “comfortable” lives. Let’s just say that I think we’re more likely to reach for the remote, than reach for the stars.

  4. When my seven year old son heard that this was the last shuttle launch, he was crushed because he wanted the opportunity to become an astronaut. I explained that there were replacement rockets coming in a few years. He relaxed, but still was saddened by not being able to pilot a “real space ship.”

    By coincidence, this weekend I showed my nine year old daughter and him episodes of Star Trek (original) for the first time. They were supremely inspired about the future by what they saw, but it is no substitute for our going out there and actually doing it.

    We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t put a man on the moon.

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