Whence Goeth Exploration?
On three separate occasions during the 1962 school year, the entire student body, first through sixth grades, of Fifth District Elementary sat cross-legged on the auditorium floor to watch history in the making on the school’s 27-inch black and white television. Mercury astronauts were our heroes.
Based on old photos of my class, the total student body of the small rural school was about 200. The old stone school had 12 classrooms (two per grade,) an auditorium, library and a cafeteria. We had good teachers. We learned about these men of the space program and other explorers of the past.
When Alan Shepard left our atmosphere aboard Freedom 7 for his 15-minutes of glory, he could not have realized – or even imagined – the effect his path of exploration would create technologically in the future. He and the other Mercury astronauts were heroes for a generation of kids, who later improved on that technology.
The space program is responsible for tons of technology. We are beneficiaries of the improvements in every walk of life from agriculture and food production, to the insulation inside the walls of our homes. All because of children who dreamed.
This week marks at least two events in exploration. March 23, 1965, the first manned mission of the Project Gemini, 10 missions in 20 months which paved the way for the Apollo program to take mankind to the moon. This was a feat, which is to this day, unparalleled in our achievements as humans.
Another anniversary of a great exploration also is celebrated this week. Yesterday was the 375th anniversary of the landing on St. Clement’s Island by the passengers of The Ark and The Dove, 140 souls who founded our fair State of Maryland.
These explorers were diverse, and they also had a dream of religious freedom and a new life in an unknown world. Leonard Calvert, who would later be Maryland’s first provincial governor, had to first make a peace accord with local natives prior to the settlers disembarking from the ships. Jesuit Father Andrew White celebrated the first mass – on the spot – giving thanks to God for fulfilling a dream.
This year, once again, a celebration was held on St. Clement’s Island. There were speakers and politicos touting the accomplishments of our fair state and giving proper due to the small band of settlers. There was even a special birthday cake to mark the event, all in the name of Maryland history, as it should be.
The question is: Do our children and grandchildren know how to dream or explore?
My children were third generation at the old stone schoolhouse in Upperco. Hopefully in a few years my granddaughter will walk through the big front doors as a new student, too. They still have wonderful teachers and now a bigger auditorium; but are we as a society exploring anything? Do we have heroes who can gather children hushed around a television in wonderment?
Leonard Calvert undertook a big task and shared his uncle’s dream by leading the voyage to the new world and creating a colony that would continue 375 years and counting. The first astronauts ventured into the unknown darkness of space, not knowing what they would find, and returned with the gift of technology.
Today it seems we only venture into cyber-space, and then pretend we have accomplished something, or vicariously gone somewhere new and unknown. We need to stretch young minds to take the next leap in exploration for humankind and find a few new heroes, or we will become fat and dormant sitting in front of our computers.