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Have you seen the stars? Artemis, future, hope

Bill Roberts

Artemis 1 splashed down off the coast of Baja California on Dec. 11 after a 42-day mission described as a resounding success. That triggered a raft of emotions left over from the various versions of me. The most powerful of those is hope.

It is the grandfather in me that feels the most hopeful. But the child who witnessed the beginning of space flight is still fascinated by it. (The adolescent who used to get up at 4 a.m. to watch launches on television is now content to catch them later on the news.) The young adult around for the last moon shots thought hijacking a starship was a splendid idea. And the old man trying to learn to play the piano still listens to that album.

“Blows Against the Empire” was a 1970 concept album centered on the idea of hijacking a starship. The self-styled “crazies” would leave Earth and their babies could “wander naked through the cities of the universe.” It was labeled as the work of Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, but really had little to do with the band that later used that name.

“Blows” was the work of an ad hoc ensemble, a who’s who of San Francisco music at that time. Central to the best of it was Grace Slick’s piano, which my piano teacher (who holds a doctorate in music) describes this way: “Keyboard emerges like a dance. Beautiful arpeggiations splashed around. Strength, rhythmic chords. Improvisatory. Crosses into a trance/meditative repetition for a while.”

And while the concept is subversive, the music and the lyrics are all about hope:

“Have you seen the stars tonight?

Would you like to go up on A-deck and look at them with me?

Have you seen the stars tonight?

Would you like to go up for a stroll and keep me company?

Do you know we could go?

We are free

Any place you can think of

We could be

Have you seen the stars tonight?

Have you looked at all the family of stars?“

That can be dismissed as the fantasy of some San Francisco acid-heads, but at the time there was also a bunch of guys with military experience, crewcuts and slide rules whose vision was not really all that different. And Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were pretty much on the same page.

Except none of them played piano like Grace Slick.

Everything about Artemis is inspiring. Canada, the European Union and Japan are partnering with the United States on building a lunar space station. Private companies owned by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are, too. And 50 years on, the technology is all but unrecognizable.

Plus, there is a sense of renewed purpose. The space program back in the day was all about beating the Russians. As Lyndon Johnson famously asked: “What American wants to go to bed by the light of a communist moon?”

This time it is more ambitious. As one astronaut told The Week: “The real goal is Mars. We will use the moon as a test bed.”

Of course, nothing is easy or cheap. Mars will take more time than I have. Estimates range from the late 2030s to 2060. Still, my children will likely live to see it. And while I got to see an American man step on to the moon, my grandchildren will almost certainly watch men and women of all shapes and colors walk the Red Planet.

That is only right. Because in those little voices I have heard the music. And in their eyes I have seen the stars. The family of stars.

Bill Roberts is the former Opinion Editor for The Durango Herald from 1997 to 2017.