“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” -T. S. Eliot
When the Apollo 11 crew went to the moon, the President’s office prepared a letter to be read in case Armstrong and Aldrin couldn’t leave, remaining trapped on the lunar surface:
“They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown. In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.”
To me, the possibility of being condemned to death by being trapped on the moon is worse than other potential disasters of space travel. When polled, most people don’t want men to go to Mars until there is a method to get them back home. (It would be much harder to leave Mars’ surface than the moon’s because of higher gravity.) The ability to come home is a factor many people prioritize in regards to space exploration. Since Odysseus, the need to return home has driven the journey.
I never paid much attention to the mountains where I grew up. It was the landscape I saw every day. Then driving back from college one break, I realized their beauty. For the first time in nineteen years, I appreciated them. When I spent a summer overseas, I missed them. They were my mountains. Thousands of miles away, I created a connection to them that I had never experienced when I saw them every day. And now that I’m back, I can see them daily and appreciate them, the perfect combination. I’m not even much of an outdoorsy person, but my mountains give me some feeling of home, a comfort.
Home doesn’t have to mean comfort or security. It is a starting point, an origin. Earth isn’t perfect: wars, poverty, disease, inequality, starvation. But it is home, so it’s important to try to solve its problems instead of run from them. By exploring and then returning, we can face our struggles refreshed and stronger. We cannot remain stagnant and complacent; we have to keep moving, keep learning, keep seeking deeper understanding, keep yearning for a better relationship with God and one another.
As the prophet must descend from the mountain and Plato must return to the cave, we must conclude our journeys where we began. We do not triumph in isolation, but in the troubled world. We explore so that we can strengthen ourselves for the fight. But the battle will take place at home, because it is the one place in the universe worth fighting for.