A few months ago I took advantage of a speaking gig in Barcelona to visit La Sagrada Familia. Labelled the “most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages”, Antony Gaudí’s La Sagrada is one of the most well-known – and most debated – basilicas worldwide. Gaudí, who both designed and began to construct the famous monument, did not live long enough to oversee the entire construction. Even today the basilica, which had Barcelona divided because of its extravagant design is not entirely finished. Its 100% completion is set for 2026.
In Air & Space Magazine, Michael Griffin draws an interesting comparison to our desire for space exploration. He argues that the products of our space research are today’s cathedrals. Many cathedrals were not finished by the ones who started the construction. “The society as a whole had to be dedicated to the completion of those projects. We owe Western civilization as we know it today to that kind of thinking: the ability to have a constancy of purpose across years and decades.”
Movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, Interstellar and most recently The Martian, all build on our desire to explore the unknown – in this case the unknown beyond our planet. It seems that regardless of how many movies we watch we still are captivated by the idea of travelling to space. Where does this fascination come from? Did it all begin with “one small leap for a man (but) one giant leap for mankind” when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969? Or is there something else rooted inside each one of us that makes us want to travel further than anything we know?
Stephen Hawking once said that “we explore because we are human, and we want to know”. It is that intangible desire that has fuelled progress over decades and it has “provided benefits to our societies for centuries”, according to NASA. Today we are so advanced in our research and technology that we need more to satisfy that curiosity. We live in a time where anything seems possible, where entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos are actively chasing the dream of space travel and planet colonization.
Mars One, a Dutch not-for-profit organisation is planning a one-way Mars mission in 2024 for instance with the goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. They are hoping to “inspire generations to believe that all things are possible and anything can be achieved” just like the Apollo Moon landings did.
It seems that we as humans tend to strive towards what is beyond ourselves. We constantly want to do things faster, move faster or challenge ourselves to overcome our biological limitations. We have seen it in history countless times – with our amazing monuments, our desire to fly and our attempts at travelling through space. We are also trying to reach out and touch something or someone beyond ourselves and beyond our time on earth and it seems today we are doing that with our cathedrals or skyscrapers. That is what I call the wonder of humankind.