I once had the opportunity to work with NASA engineers designing new concepts for returning to the moon. I learned from them a certain awe and respect for the monumental task of solving the problems of space. Every object taken into space is designed, planned, weighed, and engineered to the finest degree of detail. Every person is scrutinized and trained to the limits of human endurance. And yet the biggest battle in exploring the near reaches of the cosmos seems to be against the waning public interest. Space travel no longer thrills and inspires most people. Without this enthusiasm there is no longer the budget for ambitious plans like bringing astronauts to Mars. With the failures of Challenger, Colombia, Soyuz, the massive expense and minimal scientific progress incurred by the Shuttle missions, the botched installation resulting in a myopic Hubble telescope, the future of human beings in space is tenuous. When you consider that each probe and robot we’ve launched at Mars has had a less than a fifty percent chance of reaching its target it seems like our technology needs some time to mature before we’re setting foot on a Martian surface.
This makes me think of a generation, just a few decades away from our first extraterrestrial walk, that will grow up and possibly grow old without seeing another spaceman. As robotic technology develops we are able to test and estimate the effects of zero gravity on systems without the need for a human operator. We won’t need another astronaut. We’re running out of experiments that people can do in orbit. It makes me think of the last person out of the ISS, turning off the lights as she goes. It seems as though as we look around our planet the near horizon of space is too near, and the far horizon of Mars is too far. I can’t imagine how that last cosmonaut will feel.
I made this sculpture in response to those feelings.