Editorial: Fear and chaos leaves no space for progress

Today is a heartbreaking day in the United States, and one that affords us no room for progress. Political disagreement and passionate debate are features of democracy. Halting a peaceful transition of power and putting lives at risk is not. That’s spreading chaos and fear, and neither allow us the opportunity to dream.

You cannot dream when you are unable to divert your eyes from the video stream of Washington, DC, out of fear that people are not safe. You cannot dream if the thing you see when you close your eyes is people hurting people. It is a luxury to invest our energy into learning and thinking about solving the problems of tomorrow, and today we cannot afford that gift.

There was a moment this afternoon when I found comfort in watching the SpaceX Starship prototype livestream from Boca Chica. The launch site in South Texas that’s just a short walk from the beach and Gulf of Mexico provided peace in contrast to a debate in Washington over whether or not Congress should recognize the results of the 2020 presidential election.

On one screen I saw a longview that offered a glimpse of what’s possible when we work together on a common goal; on the other was a test of our democracy that was unnecessary but nevertheless prevailing. Then the safety of people of all political ideologies were seen at risk on national television and social media, and even the inspiring progress of a rocket that could change our reach beyond our planet could not compare.

Nor could sharing knowledge of accomplishments in space through storytelling. Days like today are not unprecedented, even if the specific actions of protesters in DC may be. Instead, heartbreaking moments in America are experiences we will continue to share, and progress will necessarily halt while we await a return to peace. This fact has to change if we want to see dreams in space and our goals of exploration fulfilled.

I am highly skeptical of the notion that technical achievements, no matter how inspiring, are a remedy for days like today. Historically, the coincidence of civil disorder caused by economic and racial disparity has been timed with milestone achievements in human spaceflight. I reject the idea that these human accomplishments have a lasting effect on the civil wellness of our society, though.

This was true in 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, and it was true last summer when the United States sent astronauts to space from the US for the first time in nearly a decade. While these are memorable moments of pride in our history, it’s also true that pain in America continues to weigh on our society in ways that achievements in space cannot heal.

I do not discount the impact made by these spectacular moments in human accomplishment. Each represents what is possible when people work together on an impossible goal. I only hope we can apply the same enthusiasm for loving one another and the safety of others as we can for great accomplishments in science and space.

Days like today are hard. The actions of a few take a toll on all of us around the world. We also have hope that peace will be restored, business will go back to normal, and maybe we can consider ways to heal society when time permits.

We cannot know what will happen tonight, tomorrow, or anytime in the future, but we have hope that better days are ahead. Still, it is worth remembering how we feel on days like this one when we have the opportunity to work on the problems of tomorrow.

I do not know the remedy, nor do I believe there is one simple trick to fix what pains people. I do believe we have to do what we can and say what we feel when we see an opportunity to help.

I’ll end with the sentiment shared by the team at Virgin Orbit in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last summer:

In the wake of yet another tragedy, Americans across the country have felt compelled to speak aloud, to say that our society can and must be better. We’ve seen this powerful drive made manifest in peaceful demonstrations around the world, and we’ve added our voices to the throng.

We have and will always stand for good and for inclusivity — opening space for everyone, and celebrating the diversity and uniqueness of our teammates. We believe that robust access to space is key to uncovering new possibilities and to answering tomorrow’s challenges.

But right now, too many people lack the comfort and safety to work on tomorrow’s challenges. Systemic racism and injustice are among humanity’s cruelest inventions, causing untold suffering and loss to this day, and depriving us of so many important ideas and bright minds.

Virgin Orbit supports the peaceful protests and demonstrations that are shining a bright light on the urgent need for change. As a team, we’ve pledged to come together as a bulwark against bigotry and racism and for justice, freedom and inclusion.

Virgin Orbit

No matter the issue, the message that “right now, too many people lack the comfort and safety to work on tomorrow’s challenges” is one that helps me understand why we must stop on days with so much heartbreak and pain. We cannot afford to climb toward progress when people are being hurt and left behind along the way.

Be safe, and be kind.

—Zac Hall, Space Explored founder & managing editor

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