By the time I was born, Voyager 1 had traveled well beyond Saturn. Which means that on a mission that had already exceeded the five-year time limit of the original expedition of the starship Enterprise, Voyager 1 had only gone like 930 million miles. That doesn’t put it anywhere near Qo’noS!
But it’s still pretty good, I guess.
Now jump ahead 30 years, if you’d be so kind. In the interim, I’ve survived my awkward but impassioned The-Fast-and-the-Furious-should’ve-won-Best-Picture phase, watercress has finally gained the plaudits it’s so intensely deserved, and Voyager 1 is zipping along at an average velocity of 37,000 miles per hour (325 million miles per year). And according to last week’s confirmation from NASA, for almost two years now Voyager 1’s solitary journey has taken place in the interstellar medium, the soup of ionized gas, dust, Snickers® wrappers, etc. that fills the space between the solar winds of star systems. Voyager 1 is like 11 billion miles away from Earth, and it’s still not even close to leaving the Solar System. The beginning of the Oort Cloud, which nerds ’round the world agree defines the boundary of the Solar System, is still 300 years out for Voyager 1, and passing through the Oort Cloud could take it another 30,000 years! Even after it leaves the Oort Cloud it will still have only traveled a quarter of the way to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun.
And still nowhere in the neighborhood of LCDR Worf et al! STILL!
I know right now all three of you are are asking, “Where’s a freakin’ Einstein-Rosen bridge when we need one?!” However, before we go flinging our wishes for first contact about all helter-skelter, we should remember some of our beloved cautionary tales. V’ger being among the the most obvious. Sure that little bucket of joy didn’t end up destroying life as we (will) know it, but the movie in which it played an essential part definitely came close. Add that to a few xenomorphs (though in anything after Aliens, its less the aliens and more the filmmakers’ decisions that are terrifying), the Reavers (and Fox tearing our hearts out much more brutally than those space maniacs ever could/would), the Reapers (and the near-galaxy-ending collective nerd-rage that accompanied the end of their story), and the Borg (which may have in fact been some sort of herpetic consequence of V’ger itself, but for dramatic effect we’ll count them separately).
Lovecraft laid the threat out pretty eloquently.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
If that’s not a good reason for underachieving, I don’t know what is.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be space-cowboying our way through the cosmos, I’m just trying to remind everyone that interstellar travel has brought a lot of problems to our door. After everything has been discussed, if we’ve weighed the risks and decided it’s worth flirting with the unending madness that results from the merest glimpse of Azathoth, the horror that inhabits the darkness at the center of the universe and is forever accompanied by horrifically crappy flautists, and we’re still willing to push farther into the infinite and endless expanse of forever and ever, then good on us. It would take us so long to get to the center of the universe anyway. Like, crazy long. Watching-Norwegian-TV long.
So what if the next thousand generations of humans will be long dead when Voyager 1 breaks free of just our solar system? I say bring on the cold vastness of space. I’ve really been jonesing for that sweet, sweet feeling of utter insignificance today.
Maybe this will help.
p.s. Interstellar Medium could be CBS’s next summer hit. Space psychics? I’d watch that. Somebody tell Chris Nolan & John Edward to start working on a pilot.