Take Me to Mars

Yesterday SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, now the most powerful rocket operating on Earth. Only the Saturn V rocket that powered astronauts to the moon had more lift—but it took a nation to produce Saturn V. SpaceX produced Falcon Heavy on its own, and they made it reusable. Although I consider the moon landings to be a tremendous accomplishment, I admit that my admiration for them was eclipsed yesterday by SpaceX.

The moon landings were wonderful, but not sustainable. They depended on the vicissitudes of American politics in every way for their survival, and for that reason they died. Knowing our government, I couldn’t really imagine any other end. But SpaceX is on its own, unencumbered by the doubts and permissions of others—and for that reason it succeeds.

There are three things that I enjoyed most about watching yesterday’s launch:

  • The sheer, unalloyed thrill. My heart rate rose precipitously and my breathing came heavily (I had to close my office door) as the Falcon Heavy lifted off, almost as if I were running. I was anticipating an explosion, but the rocket flew on.
  • The hope. As the rocket flew further into the atmosphere, successfully discharging its reusable first stages, my heart slowed and my breathing eased. I felt the profound relief resultant from an immediate cessation of a strong stressor.
  • The exultation. When the two first-stage rockets left the atmosphere and then landed together back on Earth, I made the kind of involuntary noise that others reserve for sports. It felt like watching a science fiction movie, perhaps because, until recently, vertical landings from the atmosphere were fiction.

My favorite genre to read is science fiction, and many of my favorite books within that genre deal with the settlement of Mars. Often, the characters will reference the early forays that humans made into space, until they reached some sort of tipping point where space travel then escalated quickly out into the solar system. I hope that yesterday was that tipping point, and that the future of my life is filled with the present of those books.

I could go heavy on metaphor and describe the flight of Falcon Heavy something like: “The power of humanity made manifest, riding atop a column of fire to pierce and storm the gates of heaven.” Or I could just say what happened, which isn’t much different: “The Falcon Heavy, produced by humans, left their origin world to prepare their way to another.” In the case of yesterday’s events, metaphor is almost not needed given the facts.


This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.

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