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12/31/2001 Archived Entry: "2001: Space, Headless Goats, and Optimism"

What an inauspicious year for us "space age" kids, huh?

I remember the night after I came home from seeing '2001: A Space Odyssey' for the first time. I was a breathless star gazing 13-year-old. I knew all of the names of the Mercury astronauts, their missions, and spacecraft designations. I could recite the names of most of the Gemini astronauts, and knew all about the Apollo program, which was just then getting off the ground after the Apollo I tragedy. I still think of Grissom, Chaffee, and White as my all-time heroes.

I rushed upstairs to my room, threw open the curtains and brought out my precious books on space exploration and planetary science. I did not own a telescope, but the skies over Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Michigan always seemed able to accommodate me with a breathtaking dome filled with stars, planets, and meteors.

Hidden within the pages of my copy of "LIFE: Space" (a birthday gift from a family friend) lay a secret paper where I scribbled my predictions for the future. I limited myself to what I imagined were plausible accomplishments and developments within my lifetime - notions taken from my books, fused with my own brand of science fantasy. But at that one amazing moment, I had a new frame of reference to work with and I spent most of that night recalibrating my predictions to conform with what I had seen in in the film: space stations, passenger space shuttles, moon buses. I had proof that it was possible - I had seen it with my own eyes.

Sadly, thirty-three years later and I find that none of my predictions came true. For one thing, I had misjudged the momentum of the U.S. space program, but I had also seriously misjudged humankind. Even as I wrote my predictions, I knew that many of my ideas had little chance for success. I was braced for disappointment, but not to this degree: the Eagle had landed and Tranquility Base was open for business, but nobody came back.

The other day it all came to me why I failed so miserably as a futurist. I was reading a news entry in Wordfeed from CNN when I learned about a game called "buzkashi." It seems that after a five-year hiatus, the Afghan people have renewed their interest in this ancient pastime. Literally translated, its name means 'to take away the goat' - a headless goat.

According to CNN, the game is played between two teams made up of men and boys who fight over the body of a headless goat. To score points, the players of one team must carry the carcass around a flag and drop it into a circle while the opposing team does their dead level best to stop them. Apparently, they've been playing this game for the better part of 500 years - and the anthropologist in me rejoices at the contrasts, but what happened to the space stations wheeling over the stratosphere, flying cars threading between mile high skyscrapers, and spaceships soaring though the solar system?

Please don't misunderstand me. It is a celebration for all people everywhere when a downtrodden, desperate, and soil poor people regain their right to play whatever game they want, even 'take away the goat'. God knows, the whole world is suffering the heavy travails of this year, but I don't know whether to cry or to rejoice at this little victory of the Afghani people. Surely, this isn't all there is, is it?

The history of humankind, it seems, is rife with such disappointments, but the true measure of our character is how we continue. Do we become moribund over the loss of dreams and forgotten goals? Shall we withdraw into what remains of wilderness and chew on the fat of beasts? Of course not. While setbacks of the adult world may sap our strength, a child's mind replenishes it with abundant optimism. Hope reigns high in even the worst conditions and situations. Hope can heft lofty visions such as those depicted in "2001" or help restore a people to the simple pleasure of an ancient and bizarre sport.

So, at the close of this once valued milestone of my childhood dreams, I shall dream some more and hope for a brighter future - one adorned with flying cars and all - for I have found that optimism is not only a place for dreams, it is the light at the end of the tunnel urging us to endure the journey. -HP

"For 2001: I predict that in 2001 there will be manned exploration of the whole solar system, a space station at the Earth-Luna LaGrange point, Lunar science bases, Mars colonies, and deep space exploration. I predict that we will stop war and make drugs that can cure all diseases. There will be ion drive spacecraft engines, fusion power, batteries that last 100 years, smart robots, and flying cars..."
Signed, RCW,JR, November 28, 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey Internet Archive
Warner Bros' Re-Release Schedule
Alan Shepard blasts off in the Friendship 7 spacecraft
The Return of Buzkashi - from CNN

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