Like most children growing up, I had short-lived dreams about being a police officer or fire fighter. But the one dream that always stuck with me was becoming an astronaut.
I'm not sure when that dream actually took root. After all, I was only three years old when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to stand on the surface of the Moon.
To this day, I don't remember sitting in front of my parent's television set watching this moment in history. Even if I did remember that mission, I was too young to really appreciate or even fathom what mankind had accomplished in less than 10 years.
Years later, I distinctly remember watching one space launch, and I immediately ran outside of my family's home in northeastern Ohio to see if I could see the Saturn V spaceship flying overhead. From my childhood perspective, I thought it was going to fly high enough that I could see it, regardless of where I lived.
At the same time, I suppose this was the point in my life that my dreams of going into space took flight. I remember reading through my father's almanac, which included a map of the then-known Solar System and all the planets. By the time I was eight, I had committed to memory the names of all these planets and the number of moons circling them.
But my dreams began falling apart by the time I was in the fourth grade and I noticed that I was having trouble reading the chalkboard. Having to wear glasses left me discouraged, but I continued to chase my dreams.
Those aspirations came to an end years later after I started having problems with my inner ears. Simply put, I can't go on most carnival rides, especially the ones that go round in circles, since it seriously messes with my ability to tell up from down.
The idea of flying into space with this problem didn't make me feel any better.
Today, I still find ways to pursue my dreams the best I can. For example, I continue to look at the stars when the skies are clear and take great joy making new discoveries of the cosmos and the wonders we have yet to unlock.
Then there are other ways I try to rekindling my childhood dreams, even if it's just for a little bit. Having the honor of listening to Dr. Steve Swanson address students in the Mountain Home School District last week was one of them.
To say that I felt like a kid in the proverbial candy store to meet an actual astronaut is an understatement. I was absolutely captivated by everything he told the students.
But what caught my attention was that every student in the audience was equally mesmerized by his presentation. Their questions were well thought out and very meaningful. I lost count of how many students stopped to meet with him afterward to chat and take a picture.
From my perspective, the one thing that really stood out among all the information he presented that day dealt with one subject: Returning to the Moon and continuing on to Mars.
Oddly enough, we could return to the Moon today if we really wanted to go. The technology to make the trip has existed since the late 1960s.
While there are people like Dr. Swanson that are ready and willing to make the flight, I'm wondering if mankind, in general, has lost its desire to go. We seem to be way too busy focused on all the problems of our world that we've forgotten to take time to look to the stars and to ponder what discoveries out there that are waiting for us to uncover.
Yes, I understand that space travel is inherently dangerous and, more to the point, expensive. But that's not the point.
During the Space Race of the 1960s, the United States had all of its available resources focused on beating the former Soviet Union into space and then to the Moon. It was something that captivated people's imaginations and gave our nation something to look to while the Cold War raged between both nations and our nation was engaged in a bloody war in Vietnam. It gave us a needed break from all the gloom and misery that played out on the television screen every evening.
If nothing else, making that bold return to the Moon and then to Mars would once again allow our nation something to rally behind. Going to the Moon would give today's generation something they could aspire to achieve.
Maybe it would give students in our schools a reason to focus their time and energy on important subjects like math and science versus devoting so much of their time focusing on tabloid television and the latest scandals involving Hollywood celebrities or staring into their cell phones.
Going back to the Moon is just the beginning of what I hope is a renaissance -- a rebirth -- of space exploration. Just three months ago, we were given a glimpse of what the future holds when we received our first up-close look at Pluto and its moons. What we're learning from that mission is helping rewrite what we know about our Solar System and the mysteries it still contains.
Mankind's first mission to Mars will represent humanity's greatest challenge. The journey alone will take up to nine months followed by a perilous landing on a world that, along with our own world, is the only one that could adequately support human life.
As a nation, it's imperative that we take the initiative and set course to return to space. It's only a matter of time before humanity finally unravels the great mysteries of whether faster-than-light travel is not only possible but actually feasible. That discovery will allow humanity to not only travel to the worlds in our Solar System but to other stars as well.
We simply need to keep focused on looking to the stars and never stop imaging what is out there.
-- Brian S. Orban