DAWN OF THE 'PEOPLED SPACE AGE'
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"We are infants leaving the womb of earth, and the important thing is how we respond to the birth pangs. We don't have the option of climbing back. Our gestation period -- our cosmic nine months -- is up. . . . Our little egg is cracked, and we're seeing the whole cosmos out there, and when the egg is cracked the chick doesn't take out the Elmer's glue and seal it back up.Skip to next paragraph
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"I consider myself an environmentalist in the larger sense, but many of my environmentalist friends view space as an anathema. Space exploration and NASA are all hightech, big-business, military centralization to them, populated by all the bogymen they all fear and hate. I don't see it that way and would carry the analogy of Earth mother a step further.
"We first begin to understand loving our mother afterm birth, not before. Before, we don't even know mother is mother. The knee-jerk reaction from some environmentalists is a fear of moving off Earth into space, because they think it means we're not interested in taking care of this planet. But in moving off Earth is our only hope of maintaining Earth as a life-enhancing environment."
With reports that the early missions of the space shuttle will be carrying into space military satellites and perhaps unmanned space stations with lasers and other sophisticated weapons aboard, Schweickart fears we are simply elevating the cold war to "higher ground."
"As we move into space we take with us what we are," he says. "And we are an interesting mixture of art and music and love and joy, and we are pain and sadness and despair and anger and fear.We are all of those things, and we take them from earth out into the universe with us. The question is: What are we going to emphasize? I fear we are moving off into this new space, leading with fear more than love, anger more than joy.
"I'm concerned that our civil space program is going downhill today, and the military program is moving ahead rapidly. I'm not antimilitary, and I do recognize there is a shadow side to us, and the military has a real function. It's a question of who is the servant and who is the master, and that's what concerns me about space."
Schweickart strides across the room and pulls a blue clothbound volume from his bookshelf. It is a history of the space program entitled "This New Ocean." He is searching for a speech President Kennedy delivered at Rice University. He thrusts an index finger into the spine of the book. "Kennedy said: 'We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won. Whether it will become a force of good or evil depends on us. . . . Space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeated mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.'"
He slams the book shut. "I have carried that statement in my soul since the day Kennedy said it."
In the hallway outside his office is a gallery of brilliant Voyager 1 color photographs of Saturn. They are interspersed with equally dramatic pictures of California's desert and coastline.
Schweickart is unquestionably proud of man's exploits in space and unabashedly surrounds himself with mementos of those adventures. He secures his necktie with the official NASA astronaut gold tie tack, signifying his membership in an exclusive club. The mug on his desk is emblazoned with a miniature reproduction of a newspaper's banner headline: MAN OF THE MOON. On a nearby table is a piece of the Apollo 9's heat shield with the inscription: "March 3-13, 1969, McDivitt, Scott, Schweickart."
"The Apollo 9 flight was shortly after the six-day war in the Middle East," he continues, leaning back with his hands cupped behind his head. "We would wake up in the morning about the time when the northern extremity of our orbit would be longitudinally over the Mideast, and while we were eating breakfast we would see Italy, and Greece and the Sinai, and Alexandria go by, and you would look out the window and think: 'There is the cradle of [our] civilization. . . .'