Let The New Moon Landing Kick Off Our Journey Back To Greatness

(Photo by GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Gage Klipper Commentary & Analysis Writer
Font Size:

Space exploration was once the foremost symbol of American exceptionalism. The courage, perseverance and sense of adventure that won the American Revolution and achieved manifest destiny carried on logically into the modern era. It is these very same qualities that helped us win the space race and put the first man on the moon in 1969. Yet in the decades since, we’ve gradually lost what made us special. We forsook our appetite for greatness and settled instead, for the comfortable, the safe, the secure. Our national spirit has suffered because of it.

Now, at a time when many think our best days are behind us, a return to undaunted space exploration gives us new reason to hope. A new generation of visionaries — a public-private collaboration between Space Initiative, NASA and Elon Musk’s Space X — launched an unmanned spacecraft on a trip to the moon. After a week-long journey,  the vessel, aptly named “Odysseus,” successfully landed on the moon Thursday night — the first mission to do so in over 50 years. (RELATED: US Makes First Moon Landing In 50 Years)

The name, of course, is a reference to Homer’s legendary adventurer from the epic Greek poem, “The Odyssey,” written around 800 BC. For the Greeks, greatness came from striving to be more than mere man by accomplishing feats more befitting of the gods. It is between man and god where the Greek heroes lie, and it is what makes the lessons of this timeless work still applicable today. A foundational character of Western greatness, no one could offer a better metaphor for America’s journey back to space exploration than Odysseus himself.

Odysseus was the King of Ithaca, a great warrior and cunning tactician, who left his wife and newborn child to sail for Troy and fight for the Greeks. For nine years, he fought alongside other Greek heroes, Agamemnon and Achilles, camped on the beaches unable to breach the city’s gates. In the tenth year, the city fell and noble Odysseus began his journey home. Yet it would be another 10 years before he saw his homeland again.

“The Odyssey” tells the story of his homecoming, and what a story it is. Pursued by the Poseidon, the God of the sea, Odysseus and his crew face many obstacles. He battles sea monsters and cyclops and resists the Sirens’ call, until he is the last man left alive among his crew. Washed up on the desolate island of Ogygia, he must face the most daunting challenge yet: The darkness within himself.

It is here that Odysseus meets Calypso, the immortal nymph who seduces him for seven long years. She offers him a chance for immortality — if only he stays with her forever.

Yet the Greek word Calypso translates to “she who conceals,” and her promise comes with a catch. He may stay with her forever on the shores of Ogygia, free from the struggles of mortal life: No more pain, strife, or curses from the gods. But what she does not tell him is that he will also give up the great achievements available only to mortals: His family, his home, the triumph of facing off against the Gods and winning, of conquest and glory and the chance to live forever in history. If he stays, he will live eternally in comfort, safety, and security — but his legacy will be forgotten.

It is this that brings great despair to Odysseus; his spirit is broken after seven years on the island. So he leaves, embracing the unknown challenges of the open sea as his only salvation. (RELATED: New Netflix Show Makes Ancient Hero, Like, Super Gay)

It is here where we now find ourselves, stranded on the shores of oblivion, decades into America’s own national odyssey. We once were like Odysseus himself, bold explorers pushing the boundaries where no man had gone before. We launched the boldest political experiment in human history, a nation founded on the principles of individual liberty. We conquered the land and survived the ravages of nature from sea to shining sea. We built the railroads, skyscrapers, the atomic bomb and yes — put a man on the moon. We built the modern world and solidified our place within it.

But then we fell weary, tired of the sacrifices required to achieve these great feats. We stopped fighting so hard; we allowed the boundaries to push back. We believed we could live out the “end of history” forever, enjoying comfort and safety without any trade-offs. Our conception of the good life is now completely detached from our traditions. With no more heroes guiding the way, we idolize what we see — often forgoing virtue, excellence and true fulfillment in pursuit of the path of least resistance. As a result, our national ethos has become a question of how to maximize material prosperity with as little risk as possible. We have succumbed to Calypso’s seduction and like Odysseus, we have fallen into national despair.

It’s hard to say what America stands for anymore — if anything at all. We can no longer even agree on our foundational principles — what even are freedom, equality and justice? — let alone the means for achieving them. We idolize idiots, worship false prophets and drift ever closer to tyranny, fast approaching a point of no return — so it’s unsurprising that we are lonelier and less satisfied than ever. Adrift, desperate to recover a sense of meaning and purpose, we have forgotten where to look.

Yet as the Greeks would say, the moon landing Thursday is a good omen; we are beginning to recover what was lost. The mission took the courage and determination that was once natural to our ethos. It serves as a reminder of what Americans can achieve when we heap disdain on the status quo, and instead look to men of vision and action who will strive for more. Like Odysseus, we have once again found the spiritedness to set sail from Calypso’s shores and begin our journey home.

Only by fearlessly leaping out of our malaise will we find salvation. There will be challenges. We will face failure and setbacks. But the only alternative is to linger forever, forsaking the legacy our ancestors built — and that we owe to generations not yet born. There is once again reason to hope: The best is yet to come.