We’ve been in lockdown for a couple months now.  Being in quarantine has pushed me to reflect on what it means to have space.  What does it mean to feel trapped?

I’ve had a few moments in my life when I’ve felt genuinely trapped, and they always came when I was surrounded by lots of open space.  Feeling trapped while looking out at the farm fields of Poland…the endless parking lots of Missouri…a mountain range in Idaho.

On the other hand, I have been in tiny hotel rooms and apartments, and never felt more free–the world at my fingertips.  I have been squeezed into crowds of people marching in the rain, and felt liberated.

So the space I have seems to stretch or shrink as my soul is able to stretch or shrink.  I’m glad to say that the place I am now is home to me, so I do not feel trapped here, even though I’m not free to move.

I hope none of you feel trapped either, and I wish all of you plenty of space, both inside and out.

As always, reality doesn’t quite live up to our noble vision of ourselves.  In our movies, we imagined we would be sending heroic teams of astronauts to confront asteroids which were threatening the Earth.  In real life, it looks like we’re going to destroy those asteroids by mining them to death.  A company called Deep Space Industries is planning to send craft into space which will harvest resources from asteroids–for high profit margins, naturally.  Once again, capitalism, rather than romantic self-sacrifice, saves the day.  Not to say that this isn’t quite cool–the craft can use 3-D printers to produce things right where they are in space, and we are going to be running out of resources on our own planet at some point, so we can use the expansion.  We may even be able to take online asteroid mining courses in the future–how’s that for new career retraining possibilities?

Being the progressive that I am though, I gotta throw in my little government plug, just in case someone tries to use this information to prove that private companies are always better at everything.  Deep Space is going to be getting help from NASA in locating the asteroids in question, and is very excited about this partnership.  So yeah, good old NASA still comes in handy once in a while.

At about the same time that NASA was experiencing the triumph of landing Curiosity on the surface of Mars, there was a mini-disaster which took place at the Kennedy Space Center.  The Morpheus lander, meant to one day explore places like the Moon or a near-asteroid, crashed and burned a few seconds after it lifted off.  It was unmanned, so nobody got hurt, thankfully.  Something about the article caught my attention, though.  NASA had made the attempt to build a cheap lander.  According to the Associated Press, “the lander was built mostly with low-cost, off-the-shelf materials”.

Is this really what America is coming to?  Once upon a time, we were willing to spend money on great achievements, like sending Americans out into the universe.  Is this part of our new obsession with being fiscally conservative?  Let me give everyone a hint:  stuff made of cheap materials is never that good.  That’s why the slippers I buy at K-Mart usually fall apart after a few weeks.  Could we at least not be cheap when it comes to our space exploration?

It’s been amusing over the past few days to watch my friends–including my conservative friends–cheering for the landing on Mars.  Yes, this is what happens when our government is willing to invest a little more money (and yes, I’m aware this includes working with private contractors) and chase after great ambitions for this country.  NASA is also planning terrible government schemes such as finding better ways to monitor severe weather, studying the Earth’s radiation belts and the effects of microgravity, and possibly landing on that near-Earth asteroid (but not with Morpheus).

I just hope we stop laboring under the delusion that we can do these things on the cheap.  Thrift store sales can be good for a cute sweater sometimes…not so much for space.