In the ’70s, we saw fit to launch Voyager 1, in part as an intergalactic jukebox so extraterrestrial life could groove on Earth’s greatest hits. Now, in the twenteens, we see fit to lunch on vegan wontons, in part as an excuse to tweet as much to the furthest reaches of our social universe.
We share, we over-share and we send crap into space – both the starry, starry night kind and the, what we used to call “Cyberspace,” kind, before it became, you know, “reality.” We project ourselves far and wide, we’re like some hyper-realized version of “Paddle To The Sea,” the children’s book and flick about a wooden figurine of a Native American in a canoe who travels from a snow bank in Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not so much a travelogue as an expression of the boy who carved the craft and his desire to extend himself, metaphysically, beyond the confines of his reality.
I’m not the only one to read it that way. Chris, the DJ and cosmic confabulator on the ’90’s dramedy “Northern Exposure” expressed a similar notion on his radio broadcast:
“That’s Paddle to the Sea, folks, the story of a little Indian boy who sends a toy canoe on a journey that he himself is too young to take. We do the same thing, you know. Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo: our standard-bearers in the eternal human crusade, exploration. And now we’ve hit the cosmic trail. Why? Well, because Earth’s played out.”
Perhaps this is what the Soviets believed, 56 years ago, when they launched Sputnik 1 this Oct. 5, begetting both the Space Race and its myriad midwives, from NASA to modern commercial enterprises like Space X and Virgin Galactic.
Today, the mere notion of a “space race” seems quaint. “Space Race” could be the name of a reality show about parking. Those of us who grew up in the shadow of the shuttle and watched a teacher get vaporized 73 seconds into her historic ride, regard the Space Race as the only good part of the Cold War – a tonic for the looming threat of “mutual assured destruction” from nuclear war.
When it comes to expressing ourselves in space, maybe it’s wiser just to send Sputniks and little paddle boats. After all, messages in bottles don’t usually kill the messenger. And who knows, maybe we’ll get a reply. It brings to mind the tune by the Police in which its narrator, stranded on a deserted island of the heart, receives a reply to his lovesick SOS in the final stanza:
“Walked out this morning / Don’t believe what I saw / A hundred billion bottles / Washed up on the shore / Seems I’m not alone at being alone / A hundred billion castaways / Looking for a home …”
That, or there was a ripping party at a neighboring island Sting wasn’t invited to.
In Sonoma, I’m surprised one of our resident gazillionaires hasn’t launched a vanity satellite named “Sonomanik” and packed it with local wine. It would certainly give new meaning to the term “bottle rocket.” It would be a natural promotion for star-crossed beverage juggernaut Constellation Brands, which presently owns a fair chunk of wine country. If it’s successful, we might have to change the name of the Milky Way to the Vino Vortex.