News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Space Shuttle Rebuttal - A Commentary

By Valerie Dunbar Jones, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – The real national tragedy not 9/11, it is not the loss of Columbia; it is not even the loss of a million jobs. All of these things remind us of our mortality and our vulnerability. But the real national tragedy is our steep descent into fear.

Fear of terrorism, death, injury. Fear of Islam, of "rogue states," of "weapons of mass destruction." Fear of bankruptcy, of loss of financial and physical security. Fear of foreigners, of our neighbors, our colleagues. Fear of our failing schools, our angry kids, our hungry kids, our lost kids. And fear of the government's inability to protect us from threats to security.

Our natural desire for security has been converted into fear, re-packaged, and sold back to us. Fear is the hottest-selling commodity in today's market.

Our space program represents more than scientific achievement, more than a symbol of national pride. It is more than American. It is a global effort. And it is an effort that is made in defiance of fear. With full knowledge of immeasurable risk, space explorers proceed. The space program transcends fear of the unknown, of limitation, of international strife. Fear of failure.

We are mortal beings. That is inescapable. Preventing death is impossible. Failure, disappointment, setbacks - all unavoidable. But don't we teach our children to try, and try again? When we fall in the field of endeavor, we get up and strive on. We maximize life - we reach out in the face of fear, in the face of risk, in the face of loss. In art, in literature, in thought and in science. We reach out to one another in love, in fairness, in friendship.

Aid to the needy is important, but it is only palliative. It does not uplift, inspire or enlighten. We need common goals that advance all of humanity, that inspire fulfilling life and not merely subsistence existence. What makes humanity great is that we reach beyond ourselves. Knowing that we live short lives, we plant trees to live hundreds of years. We seek peace among people torn asunder for thousands of years. We reach for the stars, millions of light years away.

Dollars spent on the space program are not launched into space. They circulate here, in the world's economy. They are small dollars in comparison to what is spent on popular entertainment and escapism. Yet they promote a global perspective. Of course there are corporate angles, and profits to be made. If there were not, there would never have been a space program, and no corporate wealth to spread - no jobs, no benefits, no miraculous computers in our homes, offices, schools and hospitals, no profits to shareholders. And of course there is militarization - but there would be military development with or without the space program. These are reasons to protect our space program, not to kill it.

The times demand that we demonstrate our mettle, not our weakness. This is not the time to give in to fear, to give our lives, hearts and homes over to it. To do so is to huddle over a dying flame, and haplessly await our own destruction. Now we must understand who and what we are - divine spirits in human form, not meant to live out our brief earthly lives in the shadow of fear. Franklin Roosevelt understood that, even at the lowest moments in human history, the one true enemy, the one that gives power to all other threats, is fear. Fight it with all you are, with all you have. And, as Winston Churchill said, never, never, never, never give in.

Valerie Dunbar Jones is a writer from Dallas.