tisdag 12 mars 2019

Space Exploration: Reach for Infinity

This is about space colonization. Mankind must go to space. And he will do it. Faustian man has always been striving for the infinite.

Space colonization: to travel out into space, the great Beyond, and settle on worlds like Mars.

This is a powerful vision.

And I’d say, there is a “religious, spiritual” side to it, like “going to space = going to heaven”. In the figurative sense.

OK. Not everything becomes well just because we take a spaceship and go to another heavenly body. The backlash of the Moon era showed us that.

But the spiritual aspect of space exploration is clearly there. “The promise of space” remains an inspiring vision for modern man.

Thus, this entry of space exploration and what it could mean for us. Specifically, Faustian man has been the driving force in astronomy and space exploration since antiquity. Space exploration as we know it has been a predominantly Western venture.

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In my constant, ever-ongoing hobby of reading and re-reading books, a rewarding angle is to focus on certain authors. And lately, this has meant learning to appreciate Poul Anderson (1926-2001). Details aside, this “bard of science fiction” had artistic flair, as for instance seen in Time Patrolman, The Rebel Worlds and the short story Kyrie (and in his fantasy novel The Broken Sword). And in his non-fiction, he spoke of space exploration as a virtually spiritual goal – as in, stressing the essential, vital beyond-mere-practicality aspect of it. From Wikipedia’s Poul Anderson entry we have this: “Anderson firmly held that going into space was not an unnecessary luxury but an existential need, and that abandoning space would doom humanity to ‘a society of brigands ruling over peasants’.”

Anderson saw the space age come real. He and other men preached it, they virtually lived it. Men like E. E. Smith, John W. Campbell, Robert A. Heinlein, Gordon Dickson, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven... And even though space travel and tangible, human planetary exploration hasn’t come off the ground yet, it will. At the time of writing there is for instance the serious project of going to Mars by Elon Musk, a white man of South African origin.

Despite the backlash after Project Apollo (the Moon project in the 60s and 70s) and the Space Shuttle (near-earth orbit operations 1981-2011) space exploration is still alive. Satellites constantly fly overhead us, a space station is up and running since 1998, and probes go into the solar system and beyond.

As an Actionist I’m glad of that. We need that “high frontier” to beckon us. I even say: I, LS, as an Actionist, need that frontier to strive for – that striving for the infinite.

All told, space exploration is the leading myth of the future. Faustian man will conquer space. The history of astronomy, the rise of the Western world and the history of technological development, especially in the aerospace realm, indicates this.

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Let's start in antiquity. Back then we had a poet dreaming of space. And poets and dreamers must make up the vanguard in any human endeavor.

The name of the first “space poet” was Lucian of Samosata. In A True Story he told of a journey beyond the Beyond, first, going by sea, then, with the ship in question being lifted into empty space by a hurricane, going to the Moon and experiencing diverse remarkable adventures.

A True Story was written in the second century AD. Even before that Greek scientists had observed the world around them and, for instance, like Erathosthenes, concluding that the Earth is a sphere. This was done by comparing the angle of the sun at noon between a space in northern and southern Egypt. Thus, he could estimate the circumference of the Earth, close enough to call it an exact scientific observation given the means.

Did any other contemporary culture establish such a truth by scientific observation?

Western man had begun to show his bent of striving for the infinite.

He knew that he was living on a sphere, not a flat disc.

This knowledge survived “the fall of the Roman empire”. The studied western man of the medieval era knew that Earth was round.

And Faustian man kept striving for the infinite, soon to be uttered in the light-imbued interior of gothic cathedrals, the monotonous song of Hildegard of Bingen, and the expeditions of Vikings and crusaders: to go beyond the Beyond, meet God in the enormous spaces.

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I preach the striving of Faustian man. I can tell you of Petrarch, the Italian poet being the first to climb a mountain as a dedicated feat. This was in 1336. I can tell you of the hints of infinite space in Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel paintings. I can tell you of Leonardo giving the illusion of a distant horizon in the Mona Lisa background. And the selfsame Leonardo also made the designs of a flying machine – and of this, you can of course infer: if you have a flying machine then the first step to the spaceship is made.

The stage of development of the Western world we’ve arrived at, that of the post-medieval West, can be called “the Faustian culture”. The concept was coined by Oswald Spengler in his Decline of the West (two volumes, 1918-1922); he saw antiquity as separate from the medieval era. The symbol character of this emerging mentality was the Doctor Faust of Goethe’s play who wants to learn everything, experience everything, go beyond the Beyond as a true man of the West. And, the hero of this early 19th century play wasn’t the first of this kind. Not even the quattrocento characters of Leonardo and Michelangelo were pioneers in systematically striving for the infinite. No, this strain had been around since at least Lucian of the 2nd century.

Whenever it began, this is the Faustian culture: the West, the Occident, what has evolved into the current Western world. The culture that has come to dominate the world with its building style and other engineering infrastructure, its information technology, its economic and judiciary systems and of course its vessels conquering land, sea and the air. And space.

The East hasn’t conquered the world in the same way. The East is satisfied with seeking God here and now. Symbolically speaking, the East is a mandala, a circle; the West is a line striving for the horizon. The vanishing point...! Always active, always striving, with an Actionist Rest In Action -- RIA (q.v. Actionism) -- giving him a peculiar sense of rest while going to the ends of the Earth.

The West is the culture of central perspective and straight boulevards heading for infinity. Other cultures are satisfied with having cities as a grouping of neighborhoods.

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The West is willpower and vision. The Way of the West is a willful striving for the infinite, which can be called “a spiritual will for power”.

This is the Faustian spirit. This is Actionism. Will to power, will for the infinite. Will to acknowledge the divine light within: I AM.

The culture of the West mirrors this striving, or it simply is this striving: the music of Bach, Beethoven and Wagner, the literary heroes of Odysseus, Faust and Parsifal, the spirit of statesmen like Rienzi, Charles XII, Napoleon. The strain of going beyond the Beyond, reaching for the infinite, reaching for the impossible freedom.

And this striving hasn’t been in vain. Faustian man has conquered the world and he has begun to conquer space. Scientifically and tangibly, this is the history of white striving by men like Copernicus, Kepler, Galilei, Newton, Tsiolkovsky, Oberth, von Braun, Koroljov, Gagarin and Armstrong.

And specifically, what did these men do?

Copernicus replaced the geocentric worldview with the heliocentric. The sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system.

Kepler, using both observation through telescope and mathematic formulas, discovered the laws guiding the planets in their courses.

Galilei kept advocating the heliocentric worldview against the Catholic church, which held on to the geocentric view.

Newton studied the movement of bodies and laid down gravitational laws, applicable both on Earth and in space.

Tsiolkovsky and Oberth speculated on how to travel in space with rockets. von Braun and Koroljov where chief engineers in the American and Russian space program respectively. And Gagarin was the first man in space, Armstrong the first man on the moon.
There you have the history of space exploration in a nutshell.

There you have it. And it's no coincidence that the theoretical research and the actual expeditions, the ships and the men, those who built them and those who steered them, were of the same ilk. For, as Ernst Jünger said in Copse 125: “The best men will have the best machines and the best machines will have the best men; the two are inseparable.”

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Lucian dreamed of going to the Moon. And so did, through the early modern and modern era, writers like Francis Godwin, Cyrano de Bergerac, Baron von Münchhausen, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Robert A. Heinlein.

The latter wrote his Moon story in the late 1940s: The Man Who Sold the Moon and the epilogue Requiem, estimating the trip as such to take place in the late 1970s. By the time of Heinlein writing it the development of rocketry, communications etc. made a trip to the Moon seem more than feasible. The current, late 40s, early 50s Western culture abounded in talk about space travel in general and heading for the Moon in particular.

The technological, engineering side of Heinlein’s story isn’t my focus here (though, as a side note, it is well covered in the story as are legalistic, corporate and commercial aspects of the trip). Instead, it is the visionary powers, the preachment side of it we’ll look at – the need to go to space for its own sake, as an inner necessity for Faustian man.

Heinlein doesn’t express it in Faustian, Western terms like I do. However, the gist of white man yearning for space is seen when the main character, the driving force behind the Moon expedition in question, Delos David “D. D.” Harriman, muses about his past and what made him into a space entrepreneur. No one of his nearest had shared his dream. “Go to bed!” his wife had said after a quarrel:
He hadn’t gone to bed. He had sat out on the veranda all night long, watching the full Moon move across the sky. There would be the devil to pay in the morning, the devil and a thin-lipped silence. But he’d stick by his guns. He’d given in on most things, but not on this. But the night was his. Tonight he’d be alone with his old friend. He searched her face. Where was Mare Crisium? Funny, he couldn’t make it out. He used to be able to see it plainly when he was a boy. Probably needed new glasses – this constant office work wasn’t good for his eyes. – But he didn’t need to see, he knew where they all were; Crisium, Mare Fecunditatis, Mare Tranquilitatis – that one had a satisfying roll! – the Apennines, the Carpathians, old Tycho with its mysterious rays. – Two hundred and forty thousand miles – ten times around the Earth. Surely men could bridge a little gap like that. Why, he could almost reach out and touch it, nodding there behind the elm trees.

[“Requiem,” quoted after Heinlein 1953, p. 119-120]
Again, poets must always be in the vanguard, pointing the direction where to go.

Heinlein wasn’t alone in preaching the need for space exploration. In the very book from which I quoted the above there is an introduction by John W. Campbell, the editor of the science fiction magazine Astounding where Heinlein came into his own from 1939 and where the above mentioned Poul Anderson also came to write, over the years joined by other space prophets like Gordon R. Dickson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

We also have Harry G. Stine. In The Third Industrial Revolution (1979) he talks about the need for utilizing the raw materials of the solar system, and solar power by way of certain satellites, to usher in the next industrial revolution after the one of coal and the one of computers. Details and practicalities aside, it meant “going to space” permanently, not just having it as a playground for communication satellites and unmanned probes. This was white man going to the new frontier. This was space-age preachment of the arousing kind, and this was the pay-off:
Of all the revolutions of yesterday and today, the Third Industrial Revolution is going to be the most fascinating and satisfying of all revolutions to be part of. – We can do it. – We will do it. – We must do it.

[Stine p. 217]
Note the “must” of the last sentence. That is necessity, that is what I call the inner necessity of white mankind, the same inner necessity that has made him construct boats and planes, cars and spaceships. It's not about “increasing BNP,” “creating better communications” (although it does that too) – it's about being what you are – a modern Faust, having to go beyond the Beyond as a matter of course.

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Heinlein’s D. D. Harriman dreamed of going to the moon. And he also went there in the end. He fulfilled his dream. Another spiritually gifted moon traveler is Fortunio in Ernst Jünger's 1949 novel Heliopolis. The exposition in Chapter One of Fortunio examining a moon carter full of precious stones is a strong vision of the fantastic future Jünger imagined, space exploration bringing us unimaginable adventure, creating a new spiritual renaissance for man.

That is the gist of the space travel side of Heliopolis, along with Fortunio also symbolized in the figure of the Blue Pilot, a space ship captain encountered at the end of the story. The conclusion of the novel is the hero, Lucius De Geer, leaving the city of his dreams due to political necessity and instead heading out into the endless spatial vistas in true Faustian fashion, seeking spiritual fulfilment in exploring everything, seeing everything, learning everything.

The Blue Pilot is human but he represents something “almost angelic” to Jünger, a radiant person further described thus:
In this face there was a curious mixture of sobriety and new power, bearing witness of verity, conviction. A Viking of the spaceways – and yet he had reached his goal. So many of the blue ships had caught fire and been devoured in the etheric ocean. Others, however, had found out the law with which to navigate the infinite spaces. Crammed into projectiles they had hurled themselves into a rational trajectory out into the abysses. Thus they must have found the wonderful realm Fortunio and the mining secretary had dreamt of – the realm where Earth was transformed into a treasure trove and knowledge to power. They found more than they had sought. Knowledge was like a drill in the hard rock having finally met mighty veins. They had increased their velocity even to the limit when it turns into either extinction or rest. In them something of the triumph remained, of the memory of a turning point like the one in the Red Sea once upon a time. According to Serner they had penetrated realms not touched by the curse of the apple. – There remained with them something of the spirit of departure, of the utmost daring with which man, his calculations done and without hope of returning, throws himself over a giant rampart toward nothingness.

[my own translation from the chapter “The Blue Pilot” of Heliopolis]
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In summation: Faustian man must go to space. He must reclaim what is rightfully his, the solar system.

He will do it.

He shall do it.

He must do it.

Because, it’s an inner necessity of his very being.

Actionism -- the Way of the Future
The Legacy of Space
Robert A. Heinlein
Ernst Jünger -- A Portrait
Illustration: Robert Svensson

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