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outer space with flying angel atop planet earth

A Ray Bradbury Poem Celebrating The Exploration Of Space


The desire to go further has always inspired human history

In 2017, NASA reported the existence of seven new exo-planets on which may exist conditions for the support of life as we currently understand it. Although such a study takes many years (even generations of study, according to one of the researchers), the news revived an old hope: living long enough to establish relationships with other planets. Will we be prepared for such a feat, not only from the technical and scientific point of view, but from the ethical and human point of view?

In 1971, NASA sent the unmanned probe, Mariner 9, to Mars. During those days, the scientific community met with some of the brightest literary and scientific minds of the time to give perspective on important events. Among them were Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury. On this occasion, Bradbury (the renowned author of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451) shared a brief poem which “sums up my feelings on why I love space travel, why I write science fiction, why I’m intrigued with what’s going on this weekend at Mars.”

Through references to the Old Testament and to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Bradbury defends the impulse, both physical and spiritual, that’s led human beings to spread out and to want to reach for the stars. The “Thomas” of whom the poet speaks toward the end of the poem may be Thomas Cranmer, one of the three martyrs of Oxford, burned at the stake during the 16th century for spreading a faith – the Anglican faith – which didn’t depend on the Church of Rome.

If only we had taller been

The fence we walked between the years

Did balance us serene

It was a place half in the sky where

In the green of leaf and promising of peach

We’d reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky

If we could reach and touch, we said,

‘Twould teach us, not to, never to, be dead

We ached and almost touched that stuff;

Our reach was never quite enough.

If only we had taller been

And touched God’s cuff, His hem,

We would not have to go with them

Who’ve gone before,

Who, short as us, stood tall as they could stand

And hoped by stretching tall that they might keep their land

Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.

But they, like us, were standing in a hole

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall

Across the Void, across the Universe and all?

And, measured out with rocket fire,

At last put Adam’s finger forth

As on the Sistine Ceiling,

And God’s hand come down the other way

To measure man and find him Good

And Gift him with Forever’s Day?

I work for that

Short man, Large dream

I send my rockets forth between my ears

Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years

Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall:

We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!

We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!

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