Spacecraft’s visit to Pluto represents the last frontier

Bill Uhrich - Guest Columnist

Bill Uhrich

The magnificent photos of Pluto transmitted back to Earth last month by the New Horizons spacecraft pretty much represent the end.

That’s all there is, and there ain’t no more.

While exhilarating, the photos close out the great era of space exploration now that all the planets — and dwarf planet Pluto — have been visited by spacecraft launched from Earth.

I’m reminded of my English major college days, how historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 frontier thesis declared that the American frontier had closed, that the power the frontier exerted on the development of freedom and democracy would diminish.

And of course we can see how that thesis is manifested in the development of American literature.

We’re much more sophisticated these days, or else more cynical, or else too bored to contemplate how those images of Pluto have now closed this last frontier.

In 1885, Huck Finn could “light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

The frontier represented for all Americans the ability to start over, no matter how much of a mess we made of things.

If Huck Finn had a son, he would have been Jay Gatsby, replacing the frontier with wealth and power, and with that wealth and power believing he can recreate his past.

“You can’t repeat the past,” narrator Nick Carraway said to Gatsby over his attempt to win back Daisy Buchanan.

“Can’t repeat the past?” Gatsby cried incredulously. “Why, of course you can!”

Gatsby’s hubris leads to his death.

It was common a few decades ago while we attended funerals of elderly relatives and family friends to marvel how much they had seen during their lifetimes, how they went from horse-and-buggy transportation to watching humans land on the moon.

The moon for them was the limit of their visual frontiers.

I imagine we boomers will have similar eulogies.

My parents kept us kids home from school in 1961 to watch on television when Alan Shepard become the first American in space.

Those were days when there weren’t any televisions in the schools.

They kept us home again the next year when John Glenn orbited the Earth.

We sat around the television late at night on July 20, 1969, to watch Neil Armstrong live from the moon.

I was fascinated by the Viking spacecraft’s first views from the surface of Mars that topped off the month of the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.

This Pluto mission crept up on me and was a surprise, and as I saw the images for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of fascination and sadness.

There won’t be any warp drives or wormholes — the stuff of science fiction — that will propel humans into new frontiers.

This is pretty much it.

I thought back on all those moments when I followed the space program religiously as a kid, hung on every word and image that I could get a hold of.

I stared a long time at this photograph of Pluto.

From now on, we’ll just be coloring in the lines.

That’s all there is.

There ain’t no more.


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Contact Bill Uhrich: 610-371-5090 or [email protected]

Bill Uhrich Uhrich

Bill Uhrich

Guest Columnist

Contact Bill Uhrich: 610-371-5090 or [email protected]

Contact Bill Uhrich: 610-371-5090 or [email protected]

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