survival instinct

I recently saw a presentation given by Virginia's own Leland Melvin, a recent - and future - space explorer.  Leland was chosen in 1998 to be part of NASA's astronaut corps, and he went to the International Space Station earlier this year.  He'll be going back up next year.  I wasn't able to meet him because my patience, and that of my husband, wore thin before the throngs of enthusiasts and U of R Importantos did.

Seeing him was fascinating.  The stories he told, the zeal he had for the space program, and the real sense of the importance of space exploration that he was able to convey were all captivating and I'm really glad we got to see him.  He didn't set out to be an astronaut - actually, he was drafted to the NFL - but space is where he ended up, initially as a researcher and later as part of the space program itself.

I took Brian to the presentation because I know of his deep interest in All Things Space, not to mention my own affinity for learning of the planets and the solar system and whatnot.  It was great to revisit some of the awe I felt when I was younger, visiting the Kennedy Space Center, seeing the shuttle lift off, staring up at the night sky.  I did science projects on Jupiter, wrote a paper on the Great Read Spot, I made 'constellation viewers' from aluminum foil rubber-banded over a toilet paper roll and toothpicks to poke holes.  I found a way to incorporate the Hubble Telescope into a giant research paper about the history of photography.  I sweet-talked a receptionist at a research foundation to comp me a special limited edition day-planner with images from space.  One of the few things I splurged on this past winter when we had NO MONEY was a giant coffee table of space images...so who knows, maybe this live-and-in-person encounter will spin off into some sort of formal return to higher education for me, doing some continuing ed studies in astronomy and physics.  Yay science!

The thing that I'm coming away with, however, doesn't have much to do with NASA or the space shuttle.  I find myself ruminating on one thing that Melvin said, regarding the plans to retire the space shuttle program in 2010.  President Bush's vision and direction for NASA these past years has the ultimate goal of being able to live on the moon, and then on Mars, and then who knows.  Melvin said that this movement is important, in case something catastrophic were to happen on Earth, so that we could survive on other planets.

This notion of the importance of survival in the face of destruction of the planet has been niggling at me ever since the whole Large Haldron Collider (aka Big Bang Machine) kicked up a storm.  Why is it so important to us that we survive?  So what, if black holes open up and swallow the earth?  

If one person dies, there is a lasting impression.  People think of that person or even miss him/her.  There is some paperwork to be done, perhaps a ceremony to plan.  Some folks who are lucky enough to be loved, will be missed, and the absence will be felt.  Surprises, even scandals, may turn up in the wake of that death.  There are results.  There are consequences.  Life on earth is affected.

BUT, if we all die, then we are all dead.  We are gone.  Everything and anything that we ever did is gone.  No consequences, no results, no earth left to be affected.  Nothing.

Why does the idea of not existing bother us so much?  Or, to put it more specifically, why am I not bothered by the concept of the end of humanity? 

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